Nebraska and Iowa are among a dozen states that didn’t see public school teacher salaries slip backward, in real dollars, over the past decade.

That’s according to a report from the nation’s largest teachers union.

The National Education Association released its annual report — Rankings of the States 2018 and Estimates of School Statistics 2019 — Monday comparing education spending in the states.

The average annual salary in Nebraska rose 1%, when adjusted for inflation, from 2009-10 to 2018-19, the NEA estimates.

Iowa saw a 0.4% rise during the decade.

Thirty-eight states saw their average teacher salary decline.

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García said the decline explains the drop in applicants to teacher prep programs and the recent teacher walkouts in several states including West Virginia, Oklahoma and North Carolina.

“You can see that our teacher pay over the last decade has continued to erode, and that is expanding the large pay gap between similarly educated and experienced professionals,” she said.

Teachers earned 21.4% less than similarly situated professionals in 2018 according to the Economic Policy Institute, she said.

The same report found that teachers tend to get better benefits, which offset some of that disparity.

Colleges of education have seen a precipitous drop in people applying, she said.

Enrollment in Nebraska teachers colleges declined by more than 50% between 2008-09 and 2016-17, according to the Nebraska Department of Education.

The number of students completing the programs remained relatively steady over that time, though it dipped in 2016-17 to its lowest in nine years.

“Even those very dedicated new teachers, who said, ‘This is where I want to make my career,’ find out very quickly that they have to have two or three jobs to do the world’s most important work, teaching the next generation,” she said. “And a whole lot of those folks leave.”

She said the nation doesn’t have a teacher shortage. There are plenty of certified teachers who couldn’t afford to stay in the profession, she said.

Nebraska rose in the NEA state salary rankings. But that news was met with caution from the president of Nebraska’s teachers union.

The NEA report says the state’s average salary of $54,213 in 2017-18 ranked 25th, up from 29th a year earlier.

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Jenni Benson, president of the Nebraska State Education Association, said the improved ranking is good, because the state must invest in competitive salaries to recruit and retain good teachers.

“Sadly, our improvement is due in part to salary reductions in other states,” Benson said.

The 25th ranking puts Nebraska “right in the middle of the pack,” but the state’s beginning salaries lag, she said.

The salary for a beginning Nebraska teacher with a bachelor’s degree is $34,465, ranking 43rd, she said.

Nebraska ranked No. 1 in one category. The state had the nation’s largest one-year percentage increase in average salary for instructional staff from 2016-17 to 2017-18.

The average salary for that group of employees increased 3.65% to $54,377.

Instructional staff, according to NEA, includes not just teachers but all teaching-related positions. It includes consultants or supervisors of instruction, principals, teachers, guidance personnel, librarians, psychological personnel, and other instructional staff.

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Joe covers education for The World-Herald, focusing on pre-kindergarten through high school. Phone: 402-444-1077.

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