Soaring inflation is chipping away at any progress made to teacher salaries in recent years, according to a new report by the nation’s largest teachers’ union.
In its annual report that ranks and analyzes teacher salaries and education spending by state, released Tuesday, the National Education Association estimates that the national average teacher salary for the 2021-22 school year is $66,397—a 1.7 percent increase from the previous year. But when adjusted for inflation, the average teacher salary actually decreased by an estimated 3.9 percent over the last decade.
In other words, teachers are making $2,179 less, on average, than they did 10 years ago, when the salaries are adjusted for inflation.
The NEA also found that starting teacher salaries—a key tool for attracting more people into the profession—have declined significantly in real dollars. The average starting teacher salary for this school year was $41,770, a 4 percent decrease, when adjusted for inflation, from two years ago.
"[This] decrease in inflation-adjusted pay could not have come at a worse time,” the NEA said in its report. “Though multiple factors are driving what has been a years-long teacher shortage, insufficient pay is certainly one of the primary reasons that fewer people are entering the profession, and more are leaving.”
Teacher job satisfaction appears to be at an all-time low, according to a recent nationally representative survey of teachers conducted by the EdWeek Research Center and commissioned by Merrimack College’s school of education. Seventy-four percent of teachers do not believe that their salary is fair for the work they do, according to the survey, up from 65 percent in 2012.
The survey also found that 44 percent of teachers said they’re likely to quit and find a different job within the next two years, although past research suggests that many of the people who indicate plans to quit won’t actually do so.
Teachers “remain dedicated and, of course, committed to their students, but they are also exhausted, they’re overwhelmed, and they’re feeling underappreciated,” said NEA President Becky Pringle on a press call. Paying teachers a “professional salary” would help keep them in the classroom, she added.
Last year, the NEA found that the Red for Ed movement, which began in 2018 as teachers across the country protested and went on strike for higher wages and more school funding, had a demonstrable impact on teacher salaries. Many state legislatures were fueled by teacher activism to pass pay raises.
At the time, the NEA was optimistic that salaries were finally catching up to inflation after the Great Recession. But the economic fallout from the pandemic and the high inflation due to the reopening of the economy have stalled that progress.
“It is a crisis that is a result of the chronic underfunding of public education and the shortchanging of our students,” Pringle said.
See average salaries by state
The NEA primarily collected data from state departments of education to rank teacher salaries across the nation. The 2021-22 numbers are all estimates, and are typically revised slightly the following year.
The states where teachers make the most—and the least—remained unchanged from the previous year: New York, Massachusetts, and California topped the list with the highest salaries, while West Virginia, South Dakota, and Mississippi remained at the bottom.
Hawaii saw the most significant decline—5.5 percent—in its average teacher salary year over year. Osa Tui, Jr., the president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, said that was largely because many veteran teachers retired during the pandemic, lowering the average. Also, the state no longer funds job-embedded professional development for teachers due to budget cuts, which reduced teacher pay by almost 1.5 percent, he said.
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.
Some states have passed significant teacher pay raises this year, which are not reflected in the data. For example, Mississippi teachers, who are the lowest-paid in the country, will receive an average raise of about $5,100, an increase of more than 10 percent. Alabama teachers will receive raises that range from 4 percent to nearly 21 percent, depending on their years of experience. And New Mexico teachers will see their base salary levels increase by an average of 20 percent.