PolitiFact VA: Va. Teacher Pay Discrepancy Greatest in Nation
Speaker: Terry McAuliffe
Statement: “If you look at the average teacher pay compared to the average pay of your citizens, Virginia ranks last.”
Date: March 10, 2021
Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe is seeking to return to his old office with a call for big raises for teachers.
“If you look at the average teacher pay compared to the average pay of your citizens, Virginia ranks last,” he said during a March 10 virtual meeting with the Smith Mountain Lake Democrats. “We’re 50th out of 50 states. That is a disgrace.”
We fact checked McAuliffe’s statement and found it on the mark.
McAuliffe was governor from 2014-2018 and stepped down because Virginia is the only state that bars its governor from serving successive terms. He faces four opponents in a June 8 Democratic primary, all of whom are also promising to increase teachers’ pay.
Renzo Olivari, McAuliffe’s campaign spokesman, said McAuliffe’s claim is based on an article posted in August 2020 in business.org., a website that offers information and product reviews aimed at small businesses.
The article was headlined, “The Best and Worst States for Teachers.” It compared each state’s average teacher’s salary in the 2018-19 school year to its average 2019 salary for all full-time, year-round employees. Average teacher salaries were taken from data compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics; average employee salaries came from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Virginia’s average teacher salary of $52,466 was 28% lower than the $72,833 average of all full-time workers - the largest discrepancy in the nation. That backs McAuliffe’s claim. But one potential problem remained. The Census Bureau updated its 2019 average employee salary figures after the article ran. So we ran the new numbers against the teacher pay data.
Virginia still had the largest discrepancy or, as McAuliffe says, was last in the nation. The average pay of full-time, year-round employees was $73,890 - 29% higher than the average teacher salary of all workers. Nationally, the average for full-time employees was $67,787 compared to $61,730 for teachers - a 9% difference.
Virginia has the 8th highest average salary for full-time workers and ranks 34th in average teacher pay. McAuliffe says the discrepancy shows that the state has the wealth to raise its teachers’ salaries, and he pledges to lift them “above the national average within four years.”
Some legislators over the years have offered a similar argument for why Virginia can afford more spending, pointing to its status as a relatively low-tax state. Despite its wealth, Virginia ranks 36th in its average state and local tax burden, at 8.7% of income, according to USA Today.
McAuliffe estimates his four-year plan to raise teacher salaries by at least $9,200, when fully phased in, would cost about $800 million annually. We asked if it would require a tax increase and his campaign spokesman replied, “Terry will consider multiple revenue streams to fund this critically important issue, including the hundreds of millions in new revenue Virginia will see from marijuana legalization and new casino revenues. Additionally, Gov. (Ralph) Northam recently announced that our economy is rebounding faster than expected and because of that we’re expecting to see hundreds of millions of dollars in additional revenues.”
A bill that would have raised teacher salaries to at least the national average over five years died this winter in the House Appropriations Committee. The increase, when fully phased in, would have cost the state $755 million a year, according to the Department of Planning and Budget.
Despite the failure of the bill, legislators agreed to a 5% teacher raise for the 2021-22 school year.
McAuliffe said, “If you look at the average teacher pay compared to the average pay of your citizens, Virginia ranks last.”
During the 2018-19 school year, the pay for a Virginia teacher was $52,466 and the average salary of a full-time, year-round worker was $73,890. The 29% discrepancy was the highest in the nation.
So, we rate McAuliffe’s statement True.
Terry McAuliffe, Comments at a virtual meeting with Smith Mountain Lake Democrats, March 10, 2021 (3:25 mark).
McAuliffe, “Ensuring that Every Child has Access to an Equitable, World-Class Education,” accessed March 19, 2021.
Emails from Renzo Olivari, spokesman for McAuliffe campaign, March 17-19, 2021.
business.org, “Best-paying states for teachers in 2020,” Aug. 10, 2020.
National Center for Education Statistics, Table 211:60: “Estimated average annual salary of teachers in public elementary and secondary schools, by state,” accessed March 17, 2021.
U.S. Census Bureau, “Earnings in the Past 12 months,” accessed March 17-18, 2021.
USA Today, “Which States in the U.S. Have the Highest Tax Burden?” April 19, 2020.
Legislative Information System, HB1915, 2021 session.
Department of Planning and Budget, Financial impact statement for HB1915, 2021 Session.