Rises in Teacher Compensation in the South Not Enough to Ease Many States’ Shortages

News SREB News Release

ATLANTA — Teacher raises of up to 10% in recent years likely aren’t enough to help curb teacher shortages in many Southern states, as the cost of health insurance, inflation and the demands of teaching during the pandemic take a toll on the workforce.

That finding is based on updated data from the Southern Regional Education Board’s Teacher Compensation Dashboard, an interactive tool that shows average teacher salaries, health insurance costs, retirement benefits and take-home pay in each of the 16 SREB states.

SREB’s new data is from the 2019-20 school year, the latest comparable state-by-state data available.

The update arrives as longer-term efforts to raise teacher pay — only one element in states’ work to elevate the profession by improving recruitment, preparation and support for teachers — continue as state leaders prepare for the 2022 legislative sessions.

The average teacher salary in SREB states reached $55,205 in 2019-20 — up 3.5% from a year earlier — about 16% below the national average of $64,133. When measuring in constant dollars, the region’s average teacher salary is still lower than the national average in the 1980s.

“Teacher shortages aren’t an education issue. They’re a workforce issue, and they ultimately threaten our economy and should be at the top of every leader’s agenda for many years to come,” SREB President Stephen Pruitt said. 

Impact on teacher shortages: While improving compensation alone isn’t enough to curb teacher shortages and elevate the profession overall, the slow progress in raising teacher pay may exacerbate shortages of high-quality teachers.

The average teacher salary in SREB states rose by 11.9% over the six-year period through 2019-2020, or about 2% each year.

Most SREB states report teacher shortages in math, science, special education, and career and technical education — too often relying on uncertified or long-term substitute teachers. Some states can’t find all the English-language arts teachers they need.

Teacher shortages could weaken the workforce as automation and new technology continue to impact nearly every type of career. SREB estimates that without higher levels of education and career training, 18 million Southerners could become unemployable or else stuck in low-wage jobs that lead to poverty by 2025.

“More and more as ‘The Great Resignation’ sweeps through the workforce, state leaders are seeing the importance of teachers in  our economy. Now is the time for leaders to take bold action to improve the teacher workforce,” said Megan Boren, who leads SREB’s work with states on teacher workforce issues.

The costs of benefits matter: Beyond teachers’ salary, the other critical parts of educators’ compensation shown on SREB’s dashboard include teachers’ monthly health insurance premiums and required contributions for retirement.

Monthly health insurance premiums for coverage of teachers and their families rose by 0.8% in 2020-21. But those costs were substantial already: $629 a month on average, up from $624 a month from the previous year, for a total of more than $7,500 over the course of a year.

Teachers often pay more than other professionals in monthly health insurance premiums to cover their families. Family health-insurance premiums vary widely in SREB states, averaging from $115 per month to nearly $1,500 a month in 2020-21, the dashboard shows.

Teachers’ average monthly cost for health care premiums covering only themselves rose by 4.5% – from $133 to $139 monthly from 2019-20 to 2020-21.

Impact on take-home pay: On average, teachers in SREB states with 15 years of experience brought home $36,205 in 2019-20 after health insurance, retirement costs and taxes, up from $34,625 a year earlier. Teachers in their 35th year on the job took home $45,921 on average, up from $44,118 a year earlier, the SREB dashboard shows.      

The average take-home pay for teachers in their first year of service in SREB states rose by 4.2% in 2019-20 over the previous year. Teachers in their 15th year saw take-home pay in the region climb by an average of 4.6%, and take-home pay rose by 4.1%  for those in their 35th year of teaching.

But inflation has risen in recent months to more than 5% nationally. The federal inflation rate was 2% in 2019-20.     

Emerging solutions: Fortunately, many states are looking to increase teacher compensation more substantially, improve the teacher pipeline, support current teachers, and elevate the profession.

SREB has worked with teacher human capital roundtables in four states to develop comprehensive solutions for teacher shortages and to elevate the profession.

North Carolina leaders proposed a major overhaul of the teaching profession in the state — a new pathways-and-licensing system to provide teachers with more support and new opportunities to advance in their profession. The plan, under state review, would reward teachers with higher pay for their impact on students and for leadership roles in schools and districts.

In Mississippi, lawmakers are discussing changes to teacher pay and benefits, and a statewide task force recommended a comprehensive plan to combat shortages that calls for stronger teacher preparation and recruitment, upgrades to the teacher-licensing system and an improved statewide education-data system to monitor students’ long-term progress 

For more information on the dashboard, teacher shortages and states’ work to elevate the profession, contact SREB Communications.