By William Croyle
Salaries for Kentucky's public school teachers continue to lag compared with the rest of the nation, according to a 2001-02 survey released by the American Federation of Teachers.
The annual report ranks Kentucky 36th nationally with an average salary of $37,951 for the state's 40,374 primary and secondary instructors.
That's a 3.4 percent bump in pay from the previous year, but below the national average of $44,367.
It's also a drop from 34th place in 2000-01. In 1991-92, a year after the Kentucky Education Reform Act was created, the state ranked 28th.
"It's just another example of the dismal state of affairs of education in Kentucky," said state Rep. Jon Draud, a former 20-year superintendent of the Ludlow school system. "It's getting worse rather than better."
The report released last week shows that from 1991-92 through 2001-02, teacher salaries rose 22.9 percent in Kentucky. That's the ninth-lowest increase nationally, lowest among 12 Southeast region states, and nearly 7 percentage points below the national average increase over that decade.
"That's no surprise," said Lisa Gross, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education. "We have not had a big salary increase in more than 10 years, and it won't be fixed until we get more money."
Draud said since 1994, money in the state's general fund devoted to primary and secondary education has decreased from 48 percent to 41 percent, with most of the money each district receives devoted to teacher salaries.
He said the 2.7 percent state-mandated raise teachers will receive this coming school year barely covers the cost of living.
"That's the kind of stuff that's been going on for seven or eight years," Draud said of the mandate. "That's why we're falling behind."
Fred Bassett, superintendent of Beechwood schools, said too much revenue was stripped during the good economic times in the 1990s.
"Back when the economy was good, the state produced a lot of tax cuts that took revenue away. Then the economy turned bad, and these lower rates are not able to meet the state's financial obligations today," said Bassett. "These numbers show how much less the state is devoting to education."
Another problem the state could soon face if salaries don't increase is a major shortage of teachers.
In Kentucky, the average salary for a beginning teacher in 2001-02 was $26,813. That's up 4.1 percent from the previous year, but still only good for a 38th-place national ranking - the same as in 2000-01.
Gross said the education department also expects to lose as many as 10,000 teachers to retirement in the next five years.
"We're frustrated with it, and the teachers are frustrated with it," said Gross.
"We've got to do something to keep the teachers we have and attract new ones. They say you can't fix a problem by throwing money at it, but we'd sure like to have some more."
Covington superintendent Jack Moreland said the teacher shortage has already begun.
"We're already seeing a shortage in special education, math and science," said Moreland. "What that report's saying is that we're going to face a shortage in all subjects. Why would anybody teach here when they can go across the river and make $15,000 more?"
Indiana ranks 16th on the report in average salary, while Ohio ranks 18th. In beginning teacher salaries, Ohio and Indiana rank 21st and 26th, respectively.
Moreland is also the president of the Council for Better Education, a group of 164 state school districts that filed a lawsuit in the 1980s, leading to a revamping of the state's education system with the formation of the Kentucky Education Reform Act.
They've filed another suit, seeking to force the Legislature to increase spending on education by more than 20 percent.
"The (AFT) report really represents what we're seeing here in the state - a regression from the early '90s," Moreland said. "If we go back to court and the court sustains the adequacy question, the general assembly will have to find the money."
Average teacher salaries
State 2001-2002Rank 2000-2001Rank
California $54,3481 $52,4801
Michigan $52,4972 $51,3173
Connecticut $52,3763 $51,4432
Rhode Island $51,6194 $49,7786
New York $51,0205 $51,0204
District of Columbia $51,0006 $49,0078
Pennsylvania $50,5997 $49,5287
New Jersey $50,1158 $50,3475
Illinois $49,6799 $47,86510
Alaska $49,02810 $48,1239
Indiana $44,60916 $43,31016
Ohio $44,26618 $42,89817
Kentucky $37,95136 $36,68834
South Dakota $31,38351 $30,26551
Source: American Federation of Teachers
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