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Kentucky drops in national rankings for teacher pay, student spending


The annual report from the National Education Association, a teacher’s union, shows Kentucky’s average teacher pay dropping from 35th in the nation to 36th last school year.

The same report says Kentucky’s average teacher salary has declined more than 11% over the last decade, when adjusted for inflation.

Kentucky Education Association spokesperson David Patterson said the drop isn’t helping the state’s teacher shortage.

“The best way to recruit and retain high-quality educators is to pay a professional salary,” he said, noting that many teachers may take their skills to the private sector where they can earn more.

The NEA reports Kentucky’s average teacher salary increased slightly from $53,907 in 2019-2020 to $54,139 in 2020-2021. But the small hike wasn’t enough to keep up with larger increases in other states.

Kentucky’s average teacher salary is about $11,000 below the national average.

The state’s teachers are paid better than those in West Virginia ($50,261), Missouri ($51,557), Tennessee ($52,871) and Indiana ($53,072). Teachers make much more, however, in Ohio ($63,082) and Illinois ($70,705).

The report estimates Kentucky’s average teacher salary for this school year increased slightly to $54,574.

When it comes to per-pupil spending, Kentucky also fell in the national rankings, from 32nd in 2019-2020 to 35th in 2020-2021, with an average expenditure of $12,103 per student. The state has the second-lowest per-pupil spending increase in the nation for the time period, behind Texas.

A report from the left-leaning Kentucky Center for Economic Policy estimates the state’s contribution of per-pupil funding has fallen 26% since 2008, when accounting for inflation.

Kentucky’s GOP-led General Assembly declined to give teachers raises when they passed their budget this spring, rejecting a proposal from Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear that called for a 5% across-the-board increase for all school employees. Lawmakers provided an 8% raise to non-school state employees.

“Educators across the state saw the General Assembly provide raises not only to themselves but an 8% raise to all state employees — I think most teachers would consider [it] a slap in the face to be carved out of that,” Patterson said.

Republican leaders say school districts can use a modest increase in overall per-pupil education spending to provide raises to teachers if they want to.

Jess Clark is WWNO's Education Desk reporter. Jess comes to the station after two years as Fletcher Fellow for Education Policy Reporting for North Carolina Public Radio - WUNC (Chapel Hill). Her reporting has aired on national programs, including NPR's All Things Considered, Here & Now from WBUR, and NPR's Weekend Edition.
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