Lodi News-Sentinel

Teacher salaries dropped to lowest in decade during pandemic

- Nic Querolo

As teachers navigated the daunting task of shepherdin­g students through a public health and education crisis, their average pay dropped to the lowest in at least a decade.

The starting salary for teachers in the U.S. averaged $41,770 for the 2020-21 school year, a 4% decrease from the prior year when adjusted for inflation. New Jersey had the highest pay at about $54,000, while Missouri and Montana had the lowest, about $33,000, according to a report from the National Education Associatio­n.

Poor pay is at the heart of a chronic teacher shortage that was laid bare during the pandemic. It has forced officials to reckon with a withering talent pipeline, a lack of substitute­s and high levels of dissatisfa­ction among educators. Some states tapped stimulus funds to give teachers bonuses, but the short-term aid makes it difficult for schools to implement lasting salary bumps.

“We must recruit more educators into our profession and we must keep them,” Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Associatio­n, said Tuesday at a press briefing. “It’s a crisis that is the result of the chronic underfundi­ng of public education.”

Historic levels of inflation and pandemic uncertaint­y drove real wages, which factor in inflation levels, for starting teachers lower, erasing gains made over the course of the last 10 years. More broadly, inflation-adjusted average hourly earnings dropped 2.7% in March from a year earlier, the 12th straight decline, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Nearly half of all districts in the country offer starting salaries below $40,000, the report found. Starting salaries were $2,048 higher in states that allow collective bargaining.

The education associatio­n, with 3 million members at every level of teaching, has been urging school districts to expand access to union membership and increase educator pay.

The average teacher salary is $66,397 for the 202122 school year, a figure that fails to keep up with inflation, according to the associatio­n. When adjusted for inflation, teachers are earning an average of $2,179 less per year than they did a decade ago, its report said.

Since January 2021, 25 states have enacted or proposed legislatio­n to increase teacher compensati­on, according to research from the National Conference of State Legislatur­es.

In New York, Governor Kathy Hochul estimates the state will need 180,000 new teachers over the next decade, and has taken steps to streamline a lengthy certificat­ion process and waived income limits for retired teachers in an effort to draw in more talent.

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