Commentary

School Choice Benefits Teachers Too

It’s back-to-school season, which unfortunately means it’s time for the vast majority of public school teachers to use their own salaries to stock and supply their classrooms. And because private and charter schools compete with traditional public schools for students, teachers may be inclined to believe that school choice programs divert education dollars away from their classrooms. That could explain why teachers are less likely to support school choice than the general public. But that’s only half of the story. Economic theory and scientific evidence suggest that school choice actually leads to higher salaries for public school teachers.

Economic theory and scientific evidence suggest that school choice actually leads to higher salaries for public school teachers.

Educators currently have limited diversity of options for teaching jobs. Because the government currently holds around 90 percent of the K-12 market share, educators do not have much choice regarding where they work. Teachers essentially have to accept the package of benefits and the work environment offered by the traditional public school system — and teachers that don’t like it are pretty much out of luck.

Economists would argue public school employers have strong “ monopsony power” because there is not a lot of competition in the K-12 teacher labor market. Weak competition in the labor market means employers can take advantage of their employees by (1) offering lower wages, and (2) providing poor working conditions. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that public school teachers are striking because of low pay. And maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that teachers are still working in schools without air conditioning.

School choice could help with this problem.

Of course, school choice provides families with more options, expanding competition among schooling providers. But school choice also provides educators with more employment options, leading to more competition among employers of teachers. More school choice means that public and private schools must compete with one another to retain talent. In a competitive system of diverse schooling options, employers must compete with one another for talent by offering higher salaries and better working conditions to teachers.

The scientific evidence also suggests school choice benefits teachers. According to the five studies that exist on the subject, competition from private schools and charter schools leads to higher salaries for teachers in public schools.

Table: Effect of School Choice Competition on Public School Teacher Salaries

Study
Type
Location
Finding
Hoxby (1994)
Private
United States

+

Vedder & Hall (2000)
Private
Ohio

+

Hensvik (2012)
Private
Sweden

+

Jackson (2012)
Charter
North Carolina

+

DeAngelis & Shuls (2018)
Private
United States

+

DeAngelis & Shuls (2018)
Charter
United States

Mixed

For example, a peer-reviewed study published in the Journal of Public Economics finds that nearby charter school competition increases salaries by about 3.4 percent for teachers in difficult-to-staff public schools in North Carolina. All five studies find positive effects of school choice on public school teacher salaries. Only one of the studies finds evidence of mixed results for competition from charter schools. None of these studies find that school choice competition decreases public school teacher salaries.

School choice is not a zero-sum game with teachers on one side and families on the other. Choice in the market for schooling benefits parents and children. Choice in the education labor market benefits teachers. Teachers and families really should be on the same side in this debate. After all, both groups have a lot to gain from more freedom in education.

Corey DeAngelis is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is an education policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom and a Distinguished Doctoral Fellow at the University of Arkansas.