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State-by-state data show gaps in teacher salaries, student spending: NEA

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  • Rebecca S. Pringle
    American teacher and trade union leader

A new report by the National Education Association (NEA) shows the US was making modest gains in boosting teacher pay and student spending pre-COVID-19, though state-by-state gaps remain vast. However, NEA President Becky Pringle fears the pandemic could slow momentum. 

“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,” she said. “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.”

According to NEA estimates for the 2020-2021 school year, the national classroom teacher salary stands at $65,090. When adjusted for inflation, that represents a 0.9% increase over the past 10 years. 

Teachers earn the highest average salaries in New York ($87,069), California ($84,531), and Massachusetts ($84,290), while teachers in Mississippi ($46,843), South Dakota ($48,984), and Florida ($49,102) earn some of the lowest salaries in the nation.

“As the nation’s public schools struggle with a looming teacher shortage that has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the best indicators of attracting and retaining teachers is looking at the starting and average salaries for the profession,” said Pringle, who is advocating for a base starting teacher salary of at least $40,000.

The average starting teacher salary for 2019-2020, across nearly 12,000 public school districts, was $41,163, an increase of 2.5 percent over 2018-2019. When adjusted for inflation, this marks the largest annual increase in starting pay since before the Great Recession.

“More than 6,100 school districts that employ 800,000 teachers still do not offer a starting salary of at least $40,000," she said. "But it’s not just first-year teacher salaries that cause concern: in some states, teachers will never earn professional pay. The average top salary for teachers is $75,913. Though a maximum salary of at least $100,000 is available in nearly 1,200 school districts, nearly 2,100 districts still offer a top salary that is less than $60,000, even for teachers with doctorates," she said.

Student spending

The report shows a larger bump for student spend. NEA data shows that the national average per-student expenditure for the 2019-2020 school year was $13,597, representing a 4% increase from that of the previous year based on fall enrollment. For the 2020-2021 school year, the NEA estimates that per-student expenditure will increase by 4.8% to $14,243 based on Fall enrollment. States and districts that spend the most per student are New York ($25,907), the District of Columbia ($23,231), and New Jersey ($22,097). Idaho ($7,705), Utah ($8,306), and Mississippi ($9,181) had the lowest per-student expenditures

Reggie Wade is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @ReggieWade

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