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State's teachers at top for pay

$54,960 adjusted average leads U.S.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

By Jane Elizabeth, Post-Gazette Education Writer

Pennsylvania teachers remain at the top of the nation's pay scale, according to an annual state-by-state salary survey.

The average teacher salary in Pennsylvania was $50,599 during the 2001-02 school year, according to the survey officially released yesterday by the American Federation of Teachers. That figure was seventh highest in the nation.

But when adjusted for the cost of living in Pennsylvania, the state's average teacher salary rose to $54,960, making it No. 1 in the nation. The state average also ranked No. 1 during the previous year's survey.

In fact, Pennsylvania teachers fare well in just about every category in the teachers union's examination of salaries.

For instance, their pay is considerably higher than the average annual earnings of private sector employees in Pennsylvania, who earn about $34,542. The state ranks third in the nation in that ratio.

The state's teacher pay ranks fourth in the nation when compared to Pennsylvania's per capita personal income of $30,752.

Even when adjusted for years of teaching experience -- Pennsylvania has an older teaching force -- the state still ranks 10th in the nation.

  On the Net

The full teacher salary report can be found at on the American Federation of Teachers Web site.


The $31,866 average salary of beginning teachers puts Pennsylvania 11th in the nation. That figure is a 2.4 percent increase over the previous year's salary figure for new teachers.

And teachers with master's degrees in Pittsburgh earn an average $67,400, which puts them at No. 5 among major cities nationwide.

The maximum salary for Pittsburgh teachers is $69,000. That figure ranks 11th among major cities.

While Pennsylvania's figures generally look better than much of the rest of the nation's, teachers as a whole in the United States still aren't fairly paid, the AFT contends.

Some districts "need to improve pretty dramatically," said John Tarka, executive director of the Pennsylvania Federation of Teachers. "There are some places in the country where teachers are still woefully underpaid."

In Pennsylvania too, he noted, there's a wide range of pay scales approved by school boards. Especially in less affluent districts, Tarka said, teachers are paid poorly.

"With the funding disparities [among districts], some are not able to provide teachers with a competitive salary schedule," he said.

The state with the lowest average salary was South Dakota, at $31,383. With cost-of-living adjustments, Hawaii ranked lowest at $31,761.

"When you hear those smaller salaries in other states," said Tarka, "you wonder how anyone can support a family."

Overall, the national average teacher salary was $44,367 -- a 2.7 percent increase over the previous year, according to the report.

Still, teacher salaries fall behind those of other white collar workers, the AFT study contended. For instance, the average salary of a midlevel accountant is $54,503, a 3.5 percent increase over the previous year, according to the survey.

The average computer system analyst earns $74,534, and the average engineer salary is $76,298.

For those who argue that teachers don't work a full year, the AFT contends that teachers still would earn less than other white collar workers if they worked 12 months.

Those extra 35 work days would bring the average teacher salary to $52,541.

"We think it's vital that teachers are well-compensated," said Tarka. "There is no question that teachers have a lot of responsibility."

The American Federation of Teachers is the nation's second- largest teachers union, with more than 1.2 million members who include teachers and other school employees.

Jane Elizabeth can be reached at jelizabeth@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1510.

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