WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-MN), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and U.S. Representatives Brad Schneider (D-IL-10) and Haley Stevens (D-MI-11), introduced a bicameral bill that would address severe nationwide shortages of early childhood and K-12 teachers that disproportionately impact students from low-income backgrounds and students of color.
Exacerbated by low pay, school leadership instability, and poor teaching conditions, schools in low-income communities struggle to retain experienced, qualified education professionals. On average, teachers are paid 23.5 percent less than other college graduates working in nonteaching fields, and teachers in low-income schools are more underpaid than teachers in more affluent schools.
The Retaining Educators Takes Added Investment Now (RETAIN) Act creates a fully refundable tax credit for teachers, paraprofessionals, mental health providers, and school leaders in Title I schools and for educators, program providers, and program directors in Head Start, Early Head Start, and Child Care & Development Block Grant (CCDBG) funded early childhood education programs. The tax credit increases as these professionals become more experienced to incentivize retention.
“Public school teachers work every day to meet the academic and emotional needs of their students,” said Smith. “And yet they remain largely underpaid. This is contributing to teacher shortages, which disproportionately affect students from low-income backgrounds and students of color. That’s just wrong. The RETAIN Act will help raise teacher pay, address teacher shortages and ultimately help students get the best education possible.”
“We have a teaching shortage in communities across Illinois and the country because we pay our educators far too little. Hoping to make ends meet for their own families, high quality and experienced teachers are incentivized to move to more affluent, higher paying districts. The impact on Black and Brown students and low-income communities is particularly drastic, with many students in the greatest need having the least resources available to them,” Durbin said. “With the RETAIN Act, we can help address teaching disparities by incentivizing teachers and other educational professionals to make careers in areas with the most need.”
“Our public school teachers work tirelessly to fulfill our promise to ensure every child in America has access to high-quality education, regardless of where they live. Sadly, teachers are so often underpaid and overworked, especially in low-income communities. We are facing a teacher shortage that is breaking our promise to Wisconsin families. We have to do more to support our teachers, our children, and our future. Our RETAIN Act will help boost teacher pay, recruit skilled, compassionate teachers, and help Wisconsin kids get the high-quality education they need and deserve.”
“Teachers shape our future generations and are the key to our future prosperity, and the RETAIN Act reflects our unwavering commitment to them,” said Schneider. “Recognizing the contributions of teachers by investing in them is crucial to attract talent and combat the nationwide shortage of teachers in public schools. That’s why I am committed to uplifting educators, enriching classrooms, and fostering a thriving school system that empowers teachers and students alike. I am proud to introduce this legislation with Sen. Durbin as we work to support our teachers.”
“Across my home state of Michigan, we have felt the devastating effects of teacher shortages, which significantly worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Stevens. “Low-income schools in particular struggle to retain and recruit the teaching talent that their students so desperately need. When our students fall behind, our nation falls behind. I am proud to be a part of this bicameral effort on behalf of America’s teachers and public school students.”
According to federal data, the average teacher salary in the 2021 to 2022 school year was $66,397—though this obscures lower pay in less affluent school districts, and when adjusted for inflation, the average teacher salary has declined by 6.4 percent over the past decade. The national median salary of early childhood educators was just $30,210, which is barely above the federal poverty line for a family of four.
Teacher pay is largely shaped by local tax revenue, and to receive modest increases, teachers must obtain expensive graduate degrees—adding student loan debt that dwarfs the accompanying pay raise. Further, schools consistently struggle to attract and retain effective teachers who reflect the diversity of students, particularly with respect to teachers who are African-American, Latino, and/or men.
The following organizations support the RETAIN Act: American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, AASA – The School Superintendents Association, Advance CTE, All4Ed, American Association of School Personnel Administrators, American School Counselor Association, Association for Career and Technical Education, Association of Illinois Montessori Schools, Chicago Teachers Union, Council of Administrators of Special Education, Deans for Impact, Edifying Teachers, Education Leaders of Color, Educators for Excellence, First Five Years Fund, FourPoint Education Partners, Illinois Education Association-NEA, Illinois Federation of Teachers, Joint National Committee for Languages, KIPP Public Schools, Learning Forward, Montessori Public Policy Initiative, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of School Psychologists, National Council for Languages and International Studies, National Rural Education Association, New Leaders, Service Employees International Union, Teach for America, Teach Plus, Teacher Salary Project, The New Teacher Project, and UnidosUS.