The national average salary for teachers has increased slightly over the past decade thanks to hard-fought education movements. The pay gap between teachers and other college-educated professionals also dropped after hitting a record high in 2018, according to an annual report released by the National Education Association. Then the pandemic hit, potentially reversing any progress made so far.
“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. “We have to build back better than wherewe were before the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis.”
The current average salary for school teachers is $65,090, approximately $10,000 higher than it was ten years ago. However, when you adjust the number for inflation, the increase is only 0.9 percent according to the report. The starting salary for teachers saw a greater increase of 2.5 percent in the 2019-2020 school year, making it the largest annual rise since the Great Recession.
While the pay gap has gone down, the number is still striking. Teachers in America are paid about 20 percent less than other professionals with similar educational backgrounds according to a report done by the Economic Policy Institute. The gap has grown significantly from 6 percent in 1996 to 19.2 percent in 2019. This number also reflects the gender gap in wages.
“When you look at their share of the labor force, white women are overrepresented in teaching,” said Dr. Sylvia Allegretto, an economist at UC Berkeley and co-author of the EPI report.
According to NEA data, currently 76.6 percent of educators in America are women. Allegretto believes another overarching reason for the gap is the lack of investment in public education.
“We have not invested as much as we should in public education and part of that is teacher pay,” she said. “We just haven’t invested in our teachers so they’re falling further and further behind.”
The relatively low wages could also impact the school’s ability to recruit and retain quality educators.
Pringle said that one of the best ways to attract and retain teachers is to raise starting salaries. The current average national starting salary is $41,163. The District of Columbia has the highest starting salary of $56,313, while Montana has the lowest of $32.871. Pringle said the NEA has advocated for at least a starting wage of $40,000 in all states, “a threshold that still remains out of reach in many parts of the country that, not surprisingly, struggle to attract and retain quality teaching professionals in every classroom.”
When COVID hit in early 2020, schools across the world shut down and student enrollment dropped. The NEA report also estimates that public school enrollment will drop by 2.4 percent. The drop is troubling because many states factor in enrollment numbers as these statistics influence school funding and budgets. Experts worry that education funding will inevitably be cut.
“You can’t really cut state funding without cutting public education budgets because it’s such a large share,” said Allegretto.
It’s still not clear how much each state would cut in educational funding, and how much the federal recovery package offer would help. Pringle urged educators, students and parents to continue fighting for access to quality public education.
“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,” added Pringle. “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.”