Teacher salaries by state in 2016-2017:
› National average: $58,950
› Alabama: $48,868
› Georgia: $54,602
› Tennessee: $48,456
States where teachers rallied:
› Arizona: $47,403
› Colorado: $46,506
› Kentucky: $52,339
› Oklahoma: $45,245
› West Virginia: $45,701
Source: National Center for Education Statistics
Note: Several agencies compile databases of average teacher salaries by state. Info varies minimally between databases, including those compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics, the National Education Association and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Momentum has been building across the U.S. in recent weeks as teachers have walked out of classrooms, leading some to look at how those who spend the most time with their children are compensated.
In West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona — some of the states where teachers are paid the least — teachers have been calling for pay raises, better pensions and more funding for schools.
But here in Tennessee, a strike isn't brewing.relatedarticlethumb
Despite Tennessee ranking 39th in the country in the National Education Association's teacher salary data for 2016-2017, there has been a push statewide in recent years to commit more funding to education.
"In the last several years, we have seen record increases in dollars appropriated through the state for teacher salaries," said Jim Wrye, assistant executive director of the Tennessee Education Association.
Over the past several years, the state has invested more than $300 million toward teacher salaries, and it has increased funding toward education in an effort to climb back to pre-recession levels.
That increase in funding is one of the reasons Tennessee is not looking at widespread teacher walkouts, Wrye said.
"Tennessee is in the top tier. We are just about 10 percent above pre-recession levels," Wrye said. Most of the states that have seen walkouts had not built back their funding, and teacher pay and benefits was one of the many areas affected.
This year, Gov. Bill Haslam allocated $55 million for K-12 teacher pay and $50 million for retirement funding in his additional $212 million committed to education funding in this year's budget.
Still, the state has a ways to go, said Jeanette Omarkhail, president-elect of the Hamilton County Education Association and member of the Tennessee Education Association.
"They are trying, they've made great progress, we are still low, though," she said of lawmakers' efforts to commit more funding to education.
In 2016-2017, the average salary for a public school teacher in the U.S. was $58,950, according to the National Center of Education Statistics. The average salary for a teacher in Tennessee was $48,456.
In Hamilton County, most starting teachers with a bachelor's degree can expect to bring home a little more than $38,000 a year.
"A beginning teacher in Hamilton could very well begin his or her career and qualify for food stamps," said Dan Liner, president of Hamilton County's teachers union.
Superintendent Bryan Johnson and his team have acknowledged that Hamilton County teachers often make less than others in Tennessee, including some of their rural neighbors.
Johnson included in this year's proposed budget $5.5 million devoted to giving employees a 2 percent raise.
As the Hamilton County school board considered Johnson's proposed budget, which it approved for presentation to the county commission May 8, some board members were concerned about adding recurring costs such as increased teacher pay to the budget.
However, many acknowledge that in order to recruit and retain teachers — something that the district has increased its efforts toward with the hiring of two recruitment coordinators in the past year — better pay is key.
"We need to keep being aware of where we rank. And if we're going to continue to support great teachers and great leaders, we need to continue to have a competitive salary for new teachers," Omarkhail said. When it comes time to pass a budget, she added, "the board and county need to show that they are sincere about increasing teachers' salaries."
Many of Hamilton County's new teachers hired each year come from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and other area teacher preparation programs, but the county often loses hires to surrounding districts such as Bradley County or Cleveland City Schools where starting pay is higher, and even across the state line to Georgia.
The average starting teacher salary in Bradley County is $40,385 a year, and the amount is similar in Cleveland City Schools. In Nashville, the average starting teacher makes almost $6,000 more than those in Hamilton County.
In Georgia, most starting salaries are higher than Tennessee's as well, Wrye said.
Teachers in Hamilton County, like most other districts in the state, also have gradual increases depending on their years of service, as negotiated by the local teacher unions or in compliance with the state's minimum salary requirements and scheduled increases. These graduated step increases also benefit from overall raises budgeted by the local districts.
Wrye doesn't expect teachers to rush to walk out of Tennessee's schools, though technically it is illegal for them to do so anyway. However, in some of the states where teachers have walked out this spring, it also was illegal.
"The key is when you have all of K-12 — school boards, administrators — when everyone takes the action," Wrye said. The Tennessee Education Association supports and appreciates teachers in other states standing up for their students, he added.
"Quite frankly, when you are really talking about not having enough funds to maintain your school systems, we appreciated our fellow teachers doing that for their students," he said.
Overall, many Americans are in favor of increasing teachers' salaries. According to the findings of a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research released earlier this week, 78 percent of Americans think teachers aren't paid enough.
West Virginia's nine-day walkout ended March 6, when Gov. Jim Justice gave all state workers a 5 percent pay bump. Oklahoma lawmakers also agreed to a pay hike when the state's teachers were inspired to walk out by West Virginia's victory. In Arizona and Colorado, teachers continue to rally outside of their classrooms, despite proposed legislation in Colorado that would fine teachers who walked out.
Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.