Average teacher salary rose 31 percent in 1990s

Monday, April 8, 2002

WASHINGTON -- Salaries for the nation's teachers just barely kept pace with living costs in the 1990s, rising 31 percent to about $43,000, the nation's largest teachers union said Monday.

In its annual report on state spending in education, the National Education Association said teacher salaries rose 0.5 percent between 1990 and 2000 when inflation is taken into account. In many states, the union said, teachers actually lost ground to inflation.

"As more money was invested in public education, teacher salaries remained stagnant -- all while the U.S. was in a time of economic expansion," said NEA President Bob Chase.

The Labor Department's own figures show that elementary school teachers' wages rose by about 38 percent between 1990 and 2000, while those of high school teachers rose nearly 33 percent.

Growth of wages studied

Labor Department figures show that, on average, wages for all full-time workers rose about 40 percent, but that wages for many workers grew more slowly.

Mail carriers, for instance, saw their weekly wages grow 30 percent, while engineers' and firefighters' wages grew about 36 percent. Others, such as architects and physicians, saw their wages grow by 52 percent.

The NEA said 13 states last year paid the typical teacher $45,000 or more, but that average salaries in 25 states were still less than $40,000.

As in past years, New Jersey, Connecticut, California, New York and Michigan paid teachers the highest average salaries in the 2000-2001 school year. Among the lowest were Louisiana, Montana, Mississippi, North Dakota and South Dakota.

While teachers in states such as Connecticut, Maryland and Alaska remained near the top of the nation's salary scale, their wages failed to keep up with inflation, the NEA said. All three lost considerable ground to rising living costs, with real wages dropping 7.8 percent for Connecticut teachers, 8.2 percent for Maryland teachers and 15 percent for Alaska teachers.

Debra Williams-Garner of the Maryland State Teacher's Association, an NEA affiliate, said a 5 percent raise for most Maryland teachers in 2000 may have made several school districts "complacent" when it came to teacher pay.

NEA's salary figures come from state departments of education in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

"Teachers are underpaid, and we're facing a $40 million shortfall on top of a decade of cuts," said James Williams, a senior at Lincoln High School in Portland, Ore., and a former student representative on the Portland School Board.

He said the district is also considering reducing teachers' health benefits, eliminating a cost-of-living increase and cutting days from the school year, which would lower salaries.

"The top teachers are being pulled away from Oregon to other areas in the nation," he said.

On Saturday, the National Association of Elementary School Principals released its own annual wage survey, reporting that elementary school principals earn, on average, about $73,000. Middle school principals earn $78,000 and high school principals earn just under $84,000. The principals' survey relies on self-reported figures from 800 school systems.


On the Net:

National Education Association: http://www.nea.org

National Association of Elementary School Principals: http://www.naesp.org

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