What’s the average teacher salary in Virginia? Depends who does the math, lawmakers find.

Hundreds of teachers rallied after the Virginia Education Association's Delegates Assembly in March in Richmond. Members were pushing for more education funding, especially for teacher salaries. (Mechelle Hankerson/ Virginia Mercury)

NORFOLK — To help lawmakers tackle a bipartisan goal of raising teacher pay, state budget staff tried to untangle for them exactly what the average teacher’s pay is in the state.

The takeaway: There are different ways to calculate that number, but it’s clear some districts fall far below any of those averages while others easily exceed those estimations.

Lawmakers realized reaching a uniform average likely can’t be a one-size-fits-all approach. 

“I think to look at an average for the state is going to be very misleading,” Del. Joe McNamara, R-Roanoke County, said at the House Appropriations Committee retreat Wednesday.

“In concept, as Virginians, we want to compensate our teachers, but what might make sense in Northern Virginia might not make sense in middle Virginia,” McNamara said.

Members of the Appropriations Committee, including those who lost their election bids, were in Norfolk Tuesday and Wednesday to go over budget numbers and needs. Gov. Ralph Northam will present his budget proposal to lawmakers Dec. 17.

Lawmakers and Northam have expressed a commitment to raising teacher salaries to at least the national average. The teacher pay raise last year, which totaled 5% between the state and local share, still left some Virginia teachers below that average.

The percentage raise didn’t make up the gap for some of the state’s lowest-paid teachers, who make as little as $33,000 a year. Plus, the raise requires a local match, potentially causing difficulty for cash-strapped municipalities. 

There are three calculations of teacher salaries, appropriations analyst Susan Hogge told lawmakers: There’s a simple average calculated by the Virginia Department of Education, a figure calculated by the National Education Association and a blended average that drives how much money school districts get in the state budget. 

The state’s “blended average” starts with simple averages and then applies a weighted factor to the divisions’ elementary and secondary school salaries.

Appropriations staff used that average to determine the average state-funded teacher salary is $49,457, almost $10,000 less than the national average of $59,539 used by the NEA. The organization estimates the average Virginia teacher salary is $52,340.

Across the state, budget staff found:

  • 59 school districts in all corners of the commonwealth reported salaries below the state average. 
  • 19 of those districts, many in Southside and Southwest Virginia, had average salaries that ranged from $37,048 to $44,247 a year.
  • 73 school districts around the state pay above the state average.
  • 25 school districts pay above the higher NEA average state salary estimate of $52,340. 
  • Seven Northern Virginia districts pay higher than the national NEA average of $59,340: Manassas ($64,390), Loudoun ($65,678), Prince William ($65,902), Fairfax ($68,883), Alexandria ($74,738), Falls Church ($77,157) and Arlington ($78,617).

The 59 districts paying below the state’s average would need $80.9 million to catch up, Hogge said. The percentage change in spending ranges from 1-33% at those districts – a “huge lift” for some of them, Hogge said.

To meet the NEA national average for the whole state, it would cost the state $480 million and localities would have to come up with $390 million. 

Budget staff offered lawmakers two potential changes to help raise salaries – use the national average in the formula to determine state funding or provide a temporary incentive to increase pay to the national average across several budget cycles.

Both suggestions would require a local match.