With the 2023 regular legislative session now behind us, Alabama lawmakers are wasting little time touting their accomplishments for the session. Gov. Kay Ivey says education is her top priority for the state, and she’s taking credit for delivering another pay raise to Alabama’s teachers.

But will higher teacher salaries do anything to improve Alabama’s lagging national test scores? And what about private sector employees?

In a press release last week commending the fifth teacher pay raise in six years, Ivey said that “Our students’ education is my top priority, and teachers are vital to their successful future, which is why I am proud to, once again, deliver a pay raise to Alabama teachers.” The release states that Alabama’s teachers have seen a 15% pay increase since the beginning of Ivey’s first term.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a 15% wage increase for teachers is largely in line with the average increase in salaries seen by all Alabama employees since 2018. However, it is important to remember that during the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Alabama’s unemployment rate rose to 13.8%. While the public sector was protected by government, nearly 284,000 private sector employees lost their jobs. The decisions of state and local government played no small part in that increase. Some businesses never recovered.

Alabama’s government should not be picking winners and losers.

“Every year since I have been governor, I have proposed a pay increase for our educators, and because of our work with the Legislature, Alabama has increased base salary for teachers by about $6,000 during that time,” Ivey went on to say. “As I stated during my state of the state address, my goal is to have the starting salary for all Alabama teachers to be the highest in the Southeast by the end of my term.”

Few would argue that teachers play a vital role in the success of students. Attracting and retaining high-quality teachers is certainly part of the equation in improving education.

But Alabama already ranks ahead of most southeastern states in terms of teacher salaries. Arkansas set the benchmark by raising starting teacher salaries to a minimum of $50,000 earlier this year, as much as a $15,000 increase. If Ivey intends to have the highest teacher salaries in the region by the end of her second term, starting wages will have to rise by more than 13% by the end of 2026.

Do the state’s academic results show that taxpayers have gotten a good return for increased investments in teachers?

In the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Alabama’s 2022 average eighth-grade math score was 264 out of 500 possible points, a three-point decrease from 2019, the same score that Alabama students had in 2000. Average eighth-grade reading scores decreased from 253 points in 2019 to 251 points in 2022, four points below where students scored in 1998.

Despite increasing teacher salaries by 15% and increasing total education funding (including supplemental appropriations) by nearly 40% between 2018-2022, better academic outcomes are yet to materialize. Increased salaries and overall funding are clearly not enough to reach that goal. States with lower teacher salaries and lower per-pupil spending are performing better. Lawmakers will have to make fundamental changes to Alabama’s education system to achieve that goal.

Justin Bogie serves as Fiscal and Budget Reporter for 1819 News. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to: Commentary@1819News.com.