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Inflation outpaces teacher pay, study finds

The National Education Association released figures Tuesday (November 14, 2006) that show a decline in public school teachers' real earnings as the average increase in teacher pay slipped below the rate of inflation in 2004–05.

According to NEA’s "Rankings and Estimates: Rankings of the States 2005 and Estimates of School Statistics 2006," the average one-year increase in teacher salaries was 2.1%, while inflation increased by 3.1%. Over the past decade, average teacher salaries increased by only 0.2% when adjusted for inflation.

The report said average Wisconsin teacher salaries fell 9.6% from 1994-95 to 2004-05, when adjusted for inflation. The Qualified Economic Offer law was implemented in Wisconsin in 1993. For 2004-05, Wisconsin's average teacher salary ranked 22nd in the nation at $44,299, about 7.1% below the national average teacher salary of $47,674.

“Underpaying America’s public school teachers is a classic case of being penny-wise and pound-foolish,” said NEA President Reg Weaver. “Low teacher pay leads to high teacher turnover, and a constant revolving door of new teachers in classrooms hurts student learning. Every student has a basic right to attend a great public school staffed by experienced and caring teachers who are compensated fairly for the work they do.”

Weaver said attracting highly qualified, enthusiastic individuals to teaching is a challenge when teacher pay lags behind comparable professions. And retaining new teachers is equally hard – more than one-third of teachers leave the profession within their first three years and half leave within the first five years. The attrition rate is even higher for ethnic minority teachers, male teachers and teachers under 30.

“In the end, it’s the students who pay the price for low teacher salaries,” said Weaver. “If we’re going to close the student achievement gaps and reduce school dropouts, we need a stable corps of skilled teachers in our public schools. When teachers struggle to make ends meet, schools struggle to keep jobs filled and ultimately students bear the cost of losing good teachers.”

According to Rankings and Estimates, the national average public school teacher salary for 2004–05 was $47,674. Average teacher salaries ranged from those in the District of Columbia ($58,456), California ($57,876) and Connecticut ($57,737) at the high end to South Dakota ($34,040), Mississippi ($36,590) and North Dakota ($36,695) at the low end.

National average salaries are expected to decline in coming years as Baby Boomer educators retire and new teachers enter the profession at lower entry-level salaries. Experts estimate that 2 million new teachers will be needed over the next decade.

States that saw the largest real increases in salaries between the 1994-95 and 2004-05 school years were Louisiana (13.6%), Georgia (11%), Idaho (9%), California (8.6%) and North Carolina (8.5%). Twenty-eight states saw real declines in average teacher salaries over those years, adjusting for inflation. Those with average salaries declining five percent or more included: Alaska (-15.8%), Kansas (-12.5%), Connecticut (-11.1%), Wisconsin (-9.6%), New York (-9.0%), Pennsylvania (-7.8%), Hawaii (-7.7%), West Virginia (-7.5%), New Jersey (-7.1%) and Alabama (-5.5%).

Surveys of new college graduates are evidence of the salary gap between teaching and comparable professions. Salaries for new accountants ($45,000), engineers ($47,000) and registered nurses ($39,000) far outpace the income of new teachers ($30,000). Research also shows that salaries for workers with at least four years of college are now more than 50% higher than the average earnings of a teacher. To retain quality teachers and encourage more professionals to enter the teaching field, NEA is advocating for a minimum beginning salary of $40,000 for all teachers nationwide.

The new Rankings & Estimates statistics on public education were released during American Education Week, designed to raise public understanding of key issues affecting the nation’s 48 million public school students. Teacher salaries and public education indicators including school enrollment, student-teacher ratios and school funding at the local, state and federal levels are reported in the annual state-by-state report. Among the other highlights:

  • Average per-student spending for the 2004–05 school year rose 3.8% to $8,661 – with 28 states below the average. Over the past decade, per-pupil expenditures have increased by 20.6%, in constant dollars. The highest ranking states in per pupil expenditures for 2004–05 were New Jersey ($13,370), New York ($12,879), Connecticut ($11,874), Massachusetts ($11,681) and Vermont ($11,667). On the other side of the scale, Utah ($5,032), Arizona ($5,474), Arkansas ($6,202), Mississippi ($6,452) and Oklahoma ($6,614) had the lowest per pupil expenditures. Wisconsin's average per-pupil spending was $9,805.
  • Public school enrollment for fall 2004 rose 0.6% to 48,369,744 students. Two states – Nevada and Arizona – had the fastest-growing student populations. Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia experienced declines in student enrollment – the District, Vermont, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wisconsin (down 1.7%) , Maine, Wyoming and Montana reported the largest decreases.
  • The number of male teachers has hit a record 40-year low as fewer and fewer men are entering the profession. Men comprised 24.5% of public school teachers in 2005 – continuing a downward trend. Many of them taught in Kansas (33.4%), Oregon (31.6%), Alaska (31.5%) or Indiana (30.5%). States with the lowest percentage of male faculty: Mississippi (17.4%), South Carolina (17.7%), Louisiana (18.1%), Georgia (18.9%), Arkansas (19%), Virginia (19%) and North Carolina (20%). The median was 25.2%. In Wisconsin, 27.9% of teachers were male.

Rankings and Estimates has presented selected education statistics since the 1960s. The complete report can be found at More information about American Education Week can be found online at

Posted November 16, 2006

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