By Aziah Siid | Word In Black
(WIB) – If one thing is clear about public education, it’s that America’s teachers are overworked and underpaid.
In the past three years alone, thanks to COVID-19 pandemic stay-at-home orders, educators had to figure out how to engage students virtually. Then, once in-person classes were back in session, they did their best to eliminate student achievement gaps.
On top of everything, teachers are forced to spend hundreds of dollars of their own money to buy supplies they need to do their jobs — everything from staples and binder clips to hand sanitizer and books for classroom libraries.
It’s no wonder that for some, burnout or leaving the profession entirely has become a reality. Teachers continue to leave the profession in droves — especially, Black teachers.
So what needs to happen to keep educators engaged, energized, and excited to teach?
Four new reports released by the National Education Association reveal the solution: Pay teachers more.
A career in education must not be a lifetime sentence of financial worry.BECKY PRINGLE, NEA PRESIDENT
Indeed, the 2023 NEA Teacher Salary Benchmark Report, found that 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.”
“Educators who dedicate their lives to students shouldn’t be struggling to support their own families,” NEA president Becky Pringle said in a statement. “A career in education must not be a lifetime sentence of financial worry. Who will choose to teach under those circumstances?”
How Much Do Teachers Get Paid?
The 2023 NEA Rankings and Estimates report found “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.”
But that’s usually what a teacher earns after years in the classroom and the acquisition of often-costly graduate degrees.
In it’s annual Teacher Salary Benchmark Report, the NEA’s analysis “found that the average starting teacher salary in 2021-22 was $42,845, a 2.5 percent increase over the previous year.”
But salaries — both for veterans and new teachers — vary widely.
Through an interactive tool released with the 2023 reports, the pay of educators in individual states, the pay gap, per-student spending, the state’s minimum living wage, and the ranking of each category in comparison to other states can be found with the click of a button.
For example, with an average salary of $91,097 during 2021-22, educators in New York State had the highest pay out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. But the average starting salary for a teacher in New York State was only $47,981, only the 10th highest.
Educators in Mississippi came in dead last with an average salary of $47,902 — only about $10,000 more than their average starting salary of $37,729, which is 45th in the U.S.
Inflation Is Taking a Toll
Imagine trying to stretch either starting or veteran teacher salaries in Mississippi so that they cover skyrocketing housing, gas, and grocery prices. It’s not just a struggle facing educators in Mississippi, either. The NEA found pay to teachers nationally has simply not kept up with inflation.
“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,” Alex Oberto, a Fort Collins, Colorado, social studies teacher told the NEA.
“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.”
The organization found that, taking inflation into account, starting teacher salaries are now a staggering $4,552 below 2008-2009 levels. And, compared to only 10 years ago, teachers are earning $3,644 less, on average,
No One Can Live on $25,000
The NEA’s analysis also found that nationally nearly 40% of all education support professionals who play a vital role in ensuring students get a quality education— folks working as teacher’s assistants, bus drivers, and cafeteria workers— make less than $25,000 a year.
These low salaries were the driving force behind the strike in March by employees of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Democratic California Congressman Adam Schiff tweeted at the time that “No one can live on $25,000. We must invest in schools and pay fair wages. It’s time to support those who support our kids.”
A deal was reached in mid-April to give classified employees in LAUSD the 30% bump in pay they’d asked for. In addition, the district’s teachers — whose union, UTLA, stood in solidarity with SEIU Local 99, the union for classified workers — also received a 21% raise.
Finally, the NEA’s analysis found on average, teachers in states with collective bargaining earn 25% more, and support staff receive 15% higher pay. Data shows that, in addition, higher education faculty in unions earn about $4,000 more than non-union staff in the same state.
What Does This Mean for Current and Future Black Educators?
The 2023 reports take a look at the educator pay in comparison to state funding for public education. It revealed an uncanny trend of, “decreased educator pay and inadequate investment in public schools and universities.”
And given that Black college graduates tend to be burdened with more student loan debt, they’re less likely to take a job that doesn’t pay enough to afford the cost of living, as well as payments to Sallie Mae.
Who does this end up hurting? Students, of course.
“If we are serious about giving every student—and I do mean every student—the resources and opportunities they need, then we need to make sure they have talented educators at every step of their educational journey,” Pringle said in a statement.. “By systematically keeping wages low, many politicians are forcing educators out of the profession.”