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A recent article in the Chattanooga Times Free Press highlighted the story of Sherry Fortner and the 700 other Tennessee teachers who commute across state lines every day for better pay and working conditions in Georgia schools. Surprisingly, however, Georgia is one of few states where unions are not largely responsible for teacher pay and raises.
With recent news surrounding the future of unions and collective bargaining in states like Wisconsin, where about 98,000 public education employees are WEAC union members, it’s surprising to learn that more than 90% of teachers in Georgia don’t belong to a union at all. And even more surprising, Georgia ranks third in the country in TeacherPortal.com’s Salary Comfort Score (Wisconsin ranks only 28th).
Over ten years, Teacher Portal reports, the average Georgia teacher will see a salary raise of about 42.1%, compared with Wisconsin’s 21.5% average raise. Like Wisconsin, Georgia is considered one of the states where the cost of living is relatively low and a dollar stretches further, making the average salary of $48,000 attractive to teachers in nearby states. The site also reports that the average number of students per Georgia teacher is just under 15, which is the same as in Wisconsin, making the two states comparable in many ways barring the look at how many teachers are unionized.
While states like Wisconsin continue the battle over collective bargaining rights, there exists a significant number of public school teachers in ten different states who have practically no union contracts at all, reports the Washington Post. Among these states are Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. Also included are Louisiana and Arkansas, which have only one or two school districts where contracts are offered to teachers. The debate continues over what effect non-union teachers have on student performance, but if salaries and benefits are the main consideration, it’s hard to gauge if union or non-union teachers actually have the upper hand.
For now, teachers like Sherry Fortner probably don’t have to worry about changes to their pay and benefit package (in fact, Georgia teachers even received an 8.85% pay raise a few years ago according to TeacherSalaryInfo.com), while unionized teachers in other states are sitting on the edge of their seats. It’s a bit of a head-scratcher that some teachers would commute from a highly unionized state to ones less so, and the media conversations have begun surrounding the topic. But overall, the jury is still out on whether going it alone or joining a union is a better bargain for teachers.