Not Every Teacher’s Salary Can Be Above Average

by Hans Bader

In the mythical Lake Wobegon, all the children are above average. But in real life, half of all people have to be below average, by definition. Half of all people are paid below average, especially in counties with very low living costs, where the vast majority of people are paid below the national average.

Still, no teachers union likes its members to be paid below average, even when they live in areas where the cost of living is below the national average, like Richmond, Amherst, Lynchburg, Roanoke, Harrisonburg, Staunton, or Waynesboro.

Nadarius Clark, a Democratic Virginia delegate, has introduced House Bill 187, which would require Virginia teachers to be paid at or above the national average for teachers. The bill “requires that public school teachers be compensated at a rate that is at or above the national average teacher salary…. ” The bill also requires that public school instructional and non-instructional support staff be compensated at a rate that is “at or above the national average salary for such staff.”

It is a bad idea for states to pass such laws. If every state passed such a law, teacher pay would be higher than for any other profession, and increase toward infinity, because states would be constantly increasing their teachers’ pay relative to other states so as not to be below the national average, and yet, many states would never reach the national average, due to other states increasing teacher pay first. (By definition, half of all states are going to be below average.)

It makes little sense to require areas with a low cost of living to pay teachers at or above the national average, even when they already have enough teachers, and don’t need to pay a higher wage to attract high-quality teachers.

Some areas of Virginia that can afford to do so already pay teachers well above the national average, like Arlington, where teacher pay is 49% above the national average. But there is no logical reason why teachers should have to be paid as much in areas of the state that are much cheaper to live in, such as Richmond, Amherst, Lynchburg, Roanoke, Harrisonburg, Staunton, or Waynesboro.

Teachers don’t need to be paid the national average to have a middle-class standard of living, especially in areas where housing is cheap. The median hourly wage in Virginia’s Roanoke region was only $18.09 per hour in 2021 — well below the national average for teacher pay— but most people in Roanoke and the surrounding area are able to afford to own their own home, because it’s so cheap to live there.

Delegate Clark proposed a similar bill in 2022 that died in a party-line vote in a House subcommittee that year. Back then, Republicans controlled the House of Delegates. Today, Democrats control the House of Delegates as well as the state Senate, so, if there is a party-line vote on Clark’s bill, it will pass the legislature — but probably be vetoed by Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin, because no Republican voted for this bill in 2022.

Delegate Clark ran with the endorsement of the Virginia Education Association, which endorsed most Democratic candidates in the state legislature, so this bill presumably enjoys the union’s support. Clark is one of the more left-leaning members of the House of Delegates, having been endorsed by Democratic Socialists in his successful bid to unseat a moderately liberal Democrat, former Delegate Steve Heretick.

Similar legislation has been introduced in the state Senate by Senate President Pro Tempore Louise Lucas, as SB 104.

Hans Bader practices law in Washington, D.C.