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NEA News

Teacher Salaries Not Keeping Up With Inflation, NEA Report Finds

The average public school teacher is making thousands of dollars less than a decade ago. But educator activism has notched key legislative wins in 2022-23, and significant pay increases could be around the corner.
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Published: April 24, 2023

Key Takeaways

  1. According to new reports examining educator pay released this week by the National Education Association, the national average public school teacher salary in 2021-22 increased 2 percent from the previous year to $66,745 and is projected to grow a further 2.6 percent in 2022-23.
  2. However, average teacher pay has failed to keep up with inflation over the past decade. Adjusted for inflation, teachers are making $3,644 less than they did a decade ago.
  3. Still, educators and their unions have helped secure a number of recent legislative victories that will likely produce historically large increases in teacher salaries.

After two decades teaching in Vermont, Alison Sylvester still brings the same passion and determination to the classroom she had when she began her career.

“Children matter. Their futures matter … regardless of their zip code, regardless of their gender, regardless of their race and other classifications,” Sylvester said. “To help them thrive and grow—that’s why I teach, and why I stay.”

But sometimes it’s just not enough. “There are those things we put into our students' lives that we take out of our own,” she said.

Professional pay, however, should not be one of those things that teachers lack. “I worry about my former students who say they want to be teachers, who may leave the profession after a couple of years because they can’t pay the bills. We need to support all educators and all those who want to enter the profession,” Sylvester said.

In every U.S. school district, low pay, among other factors, is driving too many educators out of the profession. Competitive salaries will attract more qualified individuals to the classroom and help keep them there.

Unfortunately, as new teacher salary data released this week by the National Education Association makes clear, teacher salaries continue to decline relative to inflation, threatening to deepen the unprecedented school staffing crisis. Inadequate investment in schools, in general, also has continued. 

“There is a perfect storm brewing in public schools,” said NEA President Becky Pringle.

According to the 2023 NEA Rankings and Estimates report released April 24, the national average public school teacher salary in 2021-22 was $66,745, a 2 percent increase from the previous year. For 2022-23, that number is projected to increase by 2.6 percent to $68,469. 

When adjusted for inflation, however, the average salary of teachers has actually declined by an estimated 6.4 percent, or $3,644, over the past decade. 

NEA also released its annual Teacher Salary Benchmark Report, which found that the average starting teacher salary in 2021-22 was $42,845, a 2.5 percent increase over the previous year. Again, inflation has taken its toll—this “increase” is the largest real dollar decrease in starting salary since NEA began collecting this data. Adjusted starting salaries for teachers are now $4,552 below 2008-2009 levels.

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“Who Will Choose to Teach?”

How teacher pay stacks up to other fields is a major factor in the decision whether to become an educator. The "teacher pay penalty”—the percent by which public school educators are paid less than similarly educated workers—hit a high of 23.5 percent in 2021, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). Meanwhile, the number of college students pursuing education degrees has decreased over the past two decades.

For those who have taken this step, the prospect of stagnant pay and a widening pay gap likely prompts many to second-guess their choice, or at least rule out staying in the classroom more than a few years.

“Educators who dedicate their lives to students shouldn’t be struggling to support their own families,” Pringle said. “A career in education must not be a lifetime sentence of financial worry. Who will choose to teach under those circumstances?”

Indeed, the educator shortage—a longstanding problem exacerbated by the pandemic—is generally not the result of a lack of qualified individuals who want to teach. It’s about a deficit of people unwilling to work for inadequate pay in unduly stressful conditions.

According to NEA Teacher Salary Benchmark Report, the average top teacher salary is $77,931. Getting to that level typically requires 25 to 30 years of professional teaching experience, a PhD, or 15 to 30 graduate credit hours beyond a master’s degree.

Roughly 17 percent of U.S. school districts pay a top salary below $60,000, while teacher salaries top out over $100,000 in only 13.1 percent of districts. 

For educators who work in states with collective bargaining laws, the news is more encouraging. NEA salary data show that the "union advantage" in getting higher wages can be substantial. Teachers earn 25 percent more, on average, in states with collective bargaining; school support staff earn 17 percent more; and college and university faculty earn about 16 percent more.

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Still, the obstacle-laden path to a decent salary forces many educators to take on extra jobs to make ends meet. Often purchasing a home close to the school you work can seem out of reach.

 “The ability for educators to afford the skyrocketing costs of housing …has been another challenge for our school district to attract and retain high-quality teachers and education support professionals,” says Alex Oberto, a social studies teacher in Fort Collins, Colorado. “Unless an educator already owns a home, new [educators] are simply priced out of homeownership, especially on their salaries that have not kept up with inflation.”

Educator Salaries in the National Spotlight

The EPI analysis suggests that closing the teacher pay penalty would require about a $10,000 increase in starting teacher pay and approximately a $15,000 increase in the average teacher salary. 

As the national spotlight on the school staffing crisis continues, lawmakers at every level of government have made increasing educator salaries a top priority. “Let’s give public school teachers a raise!” President Joe Biden declared during his 2023 State of the Union address in February.

That same month, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who serves as chairman of the Senate’s health, education, labor, and pensions committee, unveiled the Pay Teachers Act, legislation that would guarantee public school teachers annual salaries of at least $60,000 that would increase as their careers progress.

teacher pay bernie sanders
NEA President Becky Pringle (left) and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders listen as teacher Alison Sylvester talks about the need for higher educator salaries at a town hall event introducing the Pay Teachers Act in February.

“It is simply unacceptable that, in the richest country in the history of the world, many teachers are having to work two or three extra jobs just to make ends meet,” said Sanders. “If we are going to have the best public school system in the world, we have got to radically change our attitude toward education and make sure that every teacher in America receives the compensation that they deserve for the enormously important and difficult work that they do.”

NEA President Becky Pringle appeared with Sanders at a special town hall event in Washington, D.C., to mark the introduction of the legislation. Pringle called the Pay Teachers Act “a critical first step to ensure all our students have the committed educators they need to thrive.”

Another bill supported by NEA, the American Teacher Act, introduced earlier this year by U.S. Representatives Claire Frederica Wilson, of Florida, and Jamaal Bowan, of New York, would incentivize states to increase the minimum teacher salary to $60,000.  

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