Credit: Kenny Eliason

This story was updated at 11:52 a.m. March 6, 2023, to clarify information shared by MCPS teacher Lauren Caplan about her salary. It was updated at 1:05 p.m. March 6, 2023, to reflect that MCPS moved in February to increase the cap by four steps.

Teachers considering a transfer into Montgomery County Public Schools from other districts are likely to encounter not just a significantly higher cost of living, but an MCPS policy that places an artificial cap on the yearly amount of teaching experience the school system will consider when calculating salary.

That cap — called the “max entry step” policy — puts MCPS in a weaker position for recruiting and retaining teachers, according to teachers and members of their union, the Montgomery County Education Association. Neighboring districts don’t employ such salary caps or have more generous limits. There are currently 45 teacher vacancies within MCPS, according to central office data.

“We’re in dire competition for qualified teachers right now,” MCEA President Jennifer Martin said. “In other jurisdictions, veteran teachers are credited for every year of experience. […] This is about attracting highly qualified people to do the work of educating our children.”

In February, the school district increased its salary cap by four steps, according to spokesperson Jessica Baxter. The change will take effect on July 1 and will impact all teachers currently being recruited for next school year and beyond, she wrote to MoCo360.

The teachers union is pushing for more, asking the district to completely remove the policy.


Data from the Maryland Department of Education reveals that going into the 2021-22 school year, 8% of Montgomery County teachers didn’t return to the classroom. New teachers are the most likely to leave, with the education department reporting 13.6% of Maryland teachers did not return within their first three years. Of teachers who left, the majority either resigned voluntarily or left for a different education-related job, according to the report.

Lauren Haber Caplan said she always wanted to be a teacher. She teaches fifth grade at Bethesda’s Ashburton Elementary but told MoCo360 she’s looking into changing careers because of how severely the salary cap policy has impacted her ability to provide for her family.

She spent 13 years teaching in Baltimore County Public Schools with a master’s in elementary education. She and her husband moved to Montgomery County in 2020, in part because they were getting ready to start a family and had heard so many positive things about the school system.


“We knew it paid well, too,” she said. “I thought, ‘I’ll have a substantial raise and it’ll feel like a much different life for us here.’”

At the time they moved, she said she knew the school system would cap how much of her prior experience would count toward her new salary, but said she was “a little naïve” about how much the increased cost of living would impact her family.

Breaking down the salary schedule


Most U.S. school systems pay teacher salaries based on a step scale, where educators earn one step and a corresponding pay raise for every additional year they spend teaching. The salary at each step varies slightly depending on the employee’s level of education.

In Montgomery County, the minimum salary for a teacher at step 1 is $54,038 for 2022-‘23, and the maximum salary at the highest step (25) is $139,606, according to data provided by MCPS. The only district with a higher maximum salary last year was Calvert County.

When a teacher transfers from one district to another, all their steps may not transfer depending on the jurisdiction and the maximum entry step allowed. Up until the February 2023 increase, the maximum entry step for teachers transferring into Montgomery County was step 8 — lower than neighboring jurisdictions.


Of the 904 teachers who transferred into MCPS in 2022, approximately 10% transferred in above the max step and lost their additional steps, according to data provided by MCPS. A teacher at step 8 makes a minimum salary of $74,963, according to school data.

Both Prince George’s County and Washington, D.C., public schools have a max entry step of 10. Howard County credits incoming teachers for up to 17 years of experience, and Anne Arundel County accepts up to 20 steps. Frederick County doesn’t place a cap on transferred steps at all — a policy the Montgomery County teachers’ union has called for MCPS to adopt, Martin said.

In an email to MoCo360, Baxter pointed out that Montgomery County has some of the highest teacher salaries in the region.


“MCPS is working towards not only meeting but exceeding the requirements under the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future with respect to teacher compensation,” she wrote.

Under the Blueprint, all Maryland schools are required to pay teachers a minimum yearly salary of $60,000 beginning in 2026.

Higher pay, higher cost of living


Teaching in Baltimore County Public Schools, Caplan reached step 12. Because of the MCPS max step entry policy at the time, she could only transfer in at step 8. Caplan said the increased cost of living in Montgomery County — including higher mortgage, food and childcare costs — severely offset the moderate salary increase she received, even at a lower ­­step.

“It’s making it really hard to support my family,” she said.

According to a budget calculator from the Economic Policy Institute, the average cost of living for a family of three looking to maintain a “modest yet adequate standard of living” is approximately 20% higher in Montgomery County compared to Baltimore County.


Caplan negotiated with MCPS prior to signing her contract and was placed one step higher as a result. If she hadn’t negotiated, she would have been earning less at MCPS than at BCPS. She said she doesn’t believe most teachers realize they can even attempt to negotiate salaries before signing a contract with MCPS.

“Why would they not want to retain the best quality teachers? Why would they want to penalize that?” she asked.

Danillya Wilson serves as MCEA’s secretary and is in her 10th year teaching first grade at Wheaton Woods Elementary. While the salary cap hasn’t affected her personally, she said she’s seen it impact many of her colleagues. Special education is an area of particular concern, she said, given the documented shortage of teachers.


“We have a massive lack of special educators in Montgomery County,” she said. “I just think it would be in the best interest of everyone to really rethink how this salary cap is impacting our students.”

Different trains of thought

Not all MCPS transfer teachers fully share Caplan’s concern about the salary cap. One teacher, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of employment retaliation, said he transferred from Prince George’s County with 11 years of experience and lost two steps — but still got a $7,000 raise and didn’t lose any retirement.


“I can tell you that since I came to Montgomery County, my quality of life is so much better,” he said. “There’s not a dollar amount you can put on that. It’s just better. Everything’s better.”

He added, “If you’re making more than you were before, I don’t think you have anything to complain about.”

He said the bigger issue in his eyes is where the salary scale ends.


“Once you hit year 19, you plateau as far as salary,” he said, pointing out that teachers at year 19 are usually around 40 years old and likely have a family to support. “It’s pretty much the hardest time in your life, financially.”

When asked about the school administration’s stance on revisiting and potentially increasing the maximum entry step, Baxter wrote to MoCo360: “MCPS does not comment on items currently included in proposals made during open negotiations.”

The Board of Education approved salary increases effective Dec. 17, including a 3.35% cost-of-living adjustment for all permanent MCPS employees and a salary step increase for everyone hired before Feb. 1, 2022, who is still under the maximum step for their pay grade.


Right now, bargaining sessions are underway for the new MCEA contract, which will replace the current contract set to expire in June 2023. As part of negotiations, Wilson said the teachers’ union has requested that the salary cap be completely lifted.