The average teacher in America is starting to get paid more, but the economic downturn caused by the pandemic could jeopardize any progress made, the largest national teachers’ union has warned.
In its annual report that ranks and analyzes teacher salaries and education spending by state, released Monday, the National Education Association estimates that the national average teacher salary for the 2020-21 school year is $65,090—a 1.5 percent increase from the previous year. It also projected that states’ average spending per student, largely dictated by teachers’ salaries, increased nearly 5 percent to $14,243 this school year.
“Because of the #RedForEd movement and public awareness and pressure to improve the teaching profession, teachers were able to make up ground and make some gains in their salaries, especially in under-resourced communities,” said NEA President Becky Pringle in a statement.
The Red for Ed movement, which began in 2018, saw teachers across the country protesting and even going on strike for weeks at a time for higher wages and more school funding. Their activism prompted many states to pass teacher pay raises. But the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic last spring jeopardized several statewide initiatives to increase salaries, and the NEA warns that the data they used was collected before sales and income tax revenue crashed in several states.
“What we don’t know is what will happen in the 2020-21 school year and beyond because the COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed public education,” Pringle added. “We are still in a funding hole that was dug decades ago, and as unprecedented inflation looms from our current economic crisis, the country cannot afford to take its foot off the pedal of progress.”
Because of rising health-care, pension, and other school-related costs, as well as state cuts to school funding, the national average teacher salary has increased by just 0.9 percent over the past decade when adjusted for inflation, NEA found.
The NEA collected data from state departments of education to rank teacher salaries across the nation. New York, Massachusetts, and California topped the list with the highest salaries, while Mississippi, Florida, and South Dakota remained at the bottom. (The 2020-21 numbers are all estimates, and are typically revised slightly the following year.)
These rankings do not account for regional cost-of-living differences. Many states in the South and Midwest, where the cost of living is often cheaper, rank near the bottom of the list.
The NEA also found that the average starting teacher salary in the 2019-20 school year was $41,163—an increase of 2.5 percent over the prior year, and the largest annual increase since before the Great Recession when adjusted for inflation. Over the past couple years, several states have increased their minimum and starting pay for teachers.
Even so, the NEA report notes that the starting salary in more than 6,100 school districts is less than $40,000—a barrier to attracting and retaining teachers, Pringle said.