No public school teachers in Florida expect to get rich when they start their careers, but could they earn a bigger paycheck if they moved to Georgia?
That's what Florida state Rep. Marty Kiar suggested in a Dec. 14, 2010, meeting between South Florida state legislators and Republican Gov.-elect Rick Scott -- a meeting attended by this PolitiFact Florida reporter. Kiar, a Democrat who represents part of South Florida, serves on the PreK-12 appropriations subcommittee. So he should know his facts and figures on public school education.
During the meeting where legislators expressed their hopes and concerns for the upcoming year, many talked about public schools. Kiar made a plea to support public schools -- throwing in his criticism of last year's Senate Bill 6, which would have dramatically changed the teacher pay and tenure system and was vetoed by Gov. Charlie Crist. During the campaign, Scott said he favored eliminating tenure for new teachers and expanding school options such as private schools, virtual schools and home schooling.
Kiar made a plea to not focus on "punishing teachers," to keep the arts and physical education, and then made a comment about teacher pay:
"You can go to Georgia and make about $6,000 more a year as a teacher."
That sounds like a hefty chunk of change when talking about a public school teacher's salary. We wanted to know -- is the pay difference that large? And was Kiar talking about starting pay? Average pay? Or perhaps some other measurement?
When we spoke to Kiar legislative assistant Scott Barrocas on Dec. 20, 2010, he said that Kiar was on a cruise. Since we could not reach Kiar directly by e-mail or cell phone, we decided the most fair measure of teacher pay and best comparison among states would be statewide average pay. That would reflect salaries for a range of teachers in terms of where they live in the state, experience, degrees held and subject matter.
A word of warning: Comparing teacher pay isn't a simple task. Even within the state, there are differences in pay and cost of living among school districts, and paychecks vary widely from small towns to urban centers to affluent beachfront communities. Also benefits vary between states, which makes a difference in take-home pay. And Florida doesn't have a state income tax while many other states -- including Georgia -- do. But Kiar's claim was about salaries, so we are limiting this Truth-O-Meter item to examining that measure.
The National Education Association, which describes itself as the nation's largest teachers union, showed that the average teacher pay in Florida was $46,912 compared to $54,274 in Georgia -- or a $7,362 difference during the 2009-10 school year. The chart showed an asterisk next to Georgia because the state's Department of Education did not supply the information in time for the report, said Ed Hurley, who works in research at the National Education Association. The NEA came up with an estimate based on pay in previous years and inflation, Hurley said.
Since it's difficult to obtain salary information from DOEs for the current year, Hurley suggested we look back at the NEA's chart for the 2008-09 year on Page 92. That chart showed average teacher pay for Florida was $46,921 and $52,879 for Georgia -- or about $5,958 more for Georgia.
We contacted Matt Cardoza, spokesman for the Georgia Department of Education, to ask if he had average teacher pay data for Georgia. Cardoza responded in an e-mail that the average overall teacher salary is $53,138.40 for 2008-09 -- the most recent year of data available for Georgia.
We checked the Florida Department of Education for data about average teacher pay across the state. The DOE's Education Information and Accountability Services Data Report on Table 8 showed that the statewide average teacher salary for 2008-09 was $46,938. (Florida's statewide average for 2009-10 decreased slightly to $46,696 but Georgia could not supply that year's data yet and we wanted to compare for the same year.)
If we use the data from the Florida and Georgia DOEs, it shows teachers in Georgia earning about $6,200.40 more than in Florida in 2008-09.
Note that for the 2008-09 school year the NEA has slightly different figures than the states gave us -- about a $17 difference for Florida and about a $259 difference for Georgia. But the NEA shows nearly $6,000 higher pay in Georgia for 2008-09. The NEA shows more than a $7,000 difference for 2009-10, but the NEA used an estimate for Georgia for that year so it's not as valid of a comparison.
Let's summarize all those numbers, with the difference showing how much higher the pay is in Georgia:
FL GA Diff
NEA 2008-09: $46,921 $52,879 $5,958
NEA 2009-10: $46,912 $54,274* $7,362
DOE 2008-09: $46,938 $53,138.40 $6,200.40
DOE 2009-10: $46,696 N/A N/A
Still we wondered: Is a straight salary comparison meaningful if we don't compare other factors such as tax policies, health care plans or other criteria?
"It's just one factor in the total compensation package," Hurley said. "It is meaningful, but it doesn't tell the whole story on being compensated for their work."
Katie Betta, spokesperson for Republican House Speaker Dean Cannon, said in an e-mail that the "bare numbers are not accurate in apples-to-apples comparisons. For example, GA has an income tax, FL does not. FL has class size requirements, meaning many new teachers have been hired, which is not the case in GA. To accurately compare teacher salaries, you must compare among teachers who have been teaching for the same period of time and disaggregate for taxes, health insurance, retirement benefits, etc."
She suggested we try the Southern Regional Education Board which sent us a chart of average teacher salaries (click on the "averages for all" tab in the spreadsheet to see the numbers). The most recent year of the chart -- 2008-09 -- showed $46,921 for Florida and $52,879 for Georgia -- the same figures as NEA. The chart states that the sources are NEA and state education agencies. SREB also sent us a 2001 report comparing other benefits such as pensions and health care, but those figures are about a decade old.
So are teachers raking in $6,000 more a year in Georgia than Florida? We are using average teacher pay in both states because we found that the best single figure for comparison. By looking at the 2008-09 data from the states' education departments, we find that teachers in Georgia earn about $6,200 more than in Florida. If we look at the most dependable NEA data published, for 2008-09, we find a difference just shy of $6,000. Kiar said "about $6,000," so we rate this claim True.