The number of charter schools has increased over time. There are a little over 7,000 charter schools nationwide, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS). And the U.S. Department of Education awarded $253 million in grants for charter schools to expand in 2017.
But there’s one overlooked area with all this additional funding: charter school teacher salary.
Charter school teacher salary vs. public school teacher salary
Being a teacher is just as demanding as it is rewarding. It’s also an essential role in the growth of our future generations. Even with the rapid growth of charter schools, the average charter school teacher salary is lower than that of a public school teacher.
Charter school teachers make an average of $54,921, according to Comparably, a market compensation resource. The average public school teacher salary is $60,483. Like public school teacher salaries, charter school teacher salaries vary broadly by state. Comparing averages only gives a part of the picture.
Charter school teachers have a wide range of salaries even within the same state. Charter school teachers make the most in California. However, across the state, ZipRecruiter data reports that salaries are as low as $15,542 and as high as $87,238, as of June 11, 2019.
This puts the California average charter school teacher salary at $43,518, also as of June 11, 2019.
Because salaries are specifically determined by each charter school, your best option is to review the teacher salary at your desired working location. Then compare it with surrounding charter school salaries and public school teacher salaries.
In some cases, charter schools offer incentive pay based on classroom performance. This is most commonly determined by the test scores of your students. This could be one option for a bump in your salary as a charter school teacher.
What about other considerations for the life of a teacher?
Teachers generally make less, and charter school teachers certainly fall lower on the teacher pay scale. One should consider school climate, teacher requirements, and benefits when deciding to take a lower salary. There are more requirements for teachers in public schools. That said, charter schools pay less, don’t often unionize and are known for not having diversity among teachers.
Diversity in the workplace
Teaching has long been a feminized workforce. White female teachers are consistently overrepresented in the teaching profession. Black and Hispanic teachers are underrepresented in schools overall. However, according to the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, charter schools have 35% more black teachers than public schools.
Although they have a more diverse teaching staff, both types of schools serve the same proportion of black students. Meaning, white students are equally likely to have a white teacher across both sectors, and black students are 50% more likely to have a black teacher in charter schools.
In this way, charter schools are demonstrating awareness of diversity in teachers. A diverse teaching workforce benefits all students and teachers.
The teacher union has long been a benefit to public school teachers. They will fight for your salary, benefits and your rights as a worker. A union is a major difference between charter school and public school teachers.
On a large scale, charter schools are not unionized. In 2016-17, NAPCS data found 781 charter schools participated in bargaining agreements with teachers unions. With over 7,000 charter schools at this time, that’s only a small percentage of workers with built-in protections. Because charter schools aren’t required to unionize, you’ll sign an “at-will” contract. This means you can leave without notice at any time — and you can also be fired without notice at any time.
Benefits are often said to make up for low public school teacher salaries. Retirement plans and full health insurance aren’t a mandatory benefit among charter schools. When it comes to benefits, they’re school specific. This is one of the areas you’d have to dig into when looking into working for a charter school.
Class size and hours
All teachers work long hours. For public school teachers, the hours you’re required to work are outlined in the contract with the union. While many teachers need to work beyond this, it’s a worker protection put into place.
Charter school teachers have reported working even more than public school teachers. Long hours are a common reflection in teacher reviews on job posting sites.
That said, charter school teachers typically have much smaller class sizes than public school teachers. This allows for one-on-one teaching opportunities as well as teaching to the whole class.
There are freedoms for charter school teachers. Teacher certification is required for all public school teachers, but charter school certification requirements are on a state-by-state basis. There are quite a few states with a “Yes, or” clause for certification.
For example, the state of Illinois can require a certification or hire a teacher who meets other requirements — in this case, a bachelor’s degree and five years of work experience in the area of the degree. They must pass the state tests of basic skills and subject matter knowledge and provide continued evidence of professional growth.
Other states have quotas that allow them to keep a certain percentage of uncertified teachers on staff. Not being required to get a certification is a benefit. Yet many teachers still have them, along with student loans.
Can charter school teachers get student loan forgiveness?
Charter school teachers make less than public school teachers and may also be carrying a student loan balance. But some charter school teachers could have their student loans forgiven.
Teachers at charter schools are eligible for the following federal student loan forgiveness programs:
- Teacher Loan Forgiveness: This program can offer up to $17,500 in forgiveness if you teach certain subjects. Otherwise, you can receive $5,000 of student loan forgiveness.
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF): This program offers complete forgiveness of any remaining student loan balance after 10 years of qualifying payments.
- Income-driven repayment plans: This program offers complete forgiveness of your student loans after 20 to 25 years of payments on a qualifying payment plan.
The Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program and PSLF program are often touted as the best loan forgiveness programs for teachers. This may not be the case for charter school teachers. To be eligible, you must be employed at a public nonprofit charter school.
Caveat for charter school teachers
Here’s the catch — many public nonprofit charter schools are owned and/or operated by for-profit companies. You need to know who owns the school. Most importantly, look at whose name is on your paycheck each month. These are the details that determine if you qualify for the two forgiveness programs.
Even if PSLF and Teacher Loan Forgiveness are off the table for you, you could still be eligible for an income-driven repayment plan. This program requires an application and will determine your payment based on pay and family size.
If you have private student loans, you won’t be eligible for student loan forgiveness. You’ll want to look into student loan refinancing options instead.
Navigating the world of student loan forgiveness as a teacher means one more thing on your to-do list. The team at Student Loan Planner has professionals that can help you with this task. That way, you can focus on finding a work-life balance as a teacher.
Good charter school teacher salaries require a hunt
Charter schools vary so much state by state and school by school. There are certainly benefits to working in charter schools. But it’s these same freedoms that allow for such disparity in charter school teacher salaries. The bottom line is that you must do your own individual research at each specific school to determine if it’s a good fit and if it will offer you a salary you can live with.