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Virginia Journal of Education

Where Do We Stand?

An annual report from the NEA offers a glimpse of how our state stacks up on some areas of public education.

by Tom Allen

It’s sometimes helpful, in both seeing where we’ve been and how far we have yet to go, to take stock of where we are now. As educators, we wonder: Where, in fact, does our state stand when compared to others around the country when it comes to public education? How does the commonwealth do when stacked up against our colleagues?

Here, thanks to some information provided by the National Education Association, is a glimpse, a picture in time. See what you think.

Population. Heading into the 2010 census, Virginia was the 12th most populous state in the nation, with 7,712,000 residents. When it comes to school-age children, the commonwealth was also 12th, with 1,308,000 young people ages 5-17. It’s not surprising, then, that Virginia would also be 12th in the country in public school enrollment, with 1,240,000 students in our K-12 schools.

Teachers. Virginia’s schools are staffed by 126,070 instructional staff members; of those, 106,242 are teachers. Both of those figures rank the state 10th in the nation.

We continue, however, to have a problem recruiting men into state classrooms, leaving many boys without positive role models in the field of education. Virginia has the fourth lowest percentage of male teachers in the nation, at 18.4, trailing only Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. Kansas leads the country in this category, with a full one-third of its teachers male.

“Part of the problem is that we don’t pay a competitive salary that attracts young men into the profession,” says VEA President Kitty Boitnott. “When men who have started out teaching wish to start a family, buy a house, or start thinking about college funds for their own children, they often have to think about other career opportunities.”

In the number of students enrolled per teacher, Virginia, at 11.7, does better than the national average of 15.2. This should not be confused with average class size, however, which is a different calculation based on the number of students assigned to a classroom for instructional purposes.

Teacher Salaries. In 2008-09, Virginia’s average teacher salary was $48,365, good for a ranking of only 29th in the nation. Virginia’s salary was 89 percent of the national average of $54,319, also ranking the commonwealth 29th in the country. Further, Virginia’s teacher salaries have not kept pace with inflation over the last decade: In terms of constant dollars, the state’s teachers have actually lost 0.7 percent in salary over that period, a ranking of 38th in the country.

“We need to address the salary issue in Virginia before we find ourselves unable to recruit and retain high-caliber people into the classroom,” says Boitnott. “It could be argued that we have already started to suffer the consequences of depressed salaries, but I think we have been pretty lucky in that we have a number of talented young people who want to teach. We just don’t make it attractive enough to make them want to stay.”

The highest average salary for teachers in the U.S. in 2008-09 was New York, at $69,118; the lowest was South Dakota, at $35,070.

School Funding Sources. Virginia continues to ask local governments to shoulder an above-average amount of the financial burden for public schools. In 2008-09, the state provided 40.2 percent of school revenues for localities, ranking 36th in the nation. The national average is 47.1 percent. The result? Counties and cities around Virginia had to ante up 53.4 percent of school funds, ranking 13th in the country, well above the national average of 43.5 percent.

“Our state lawmakers are coming to a day of reckoning when someone at the local level is going to challenge them on not adhering to the duty that is clearly outlined for them in Virginia’s Constitution,” says Boitnott. “The Constitution specifies that it is up to the state to provide funding for a high-quality education for every school-aged child in the commonwealth, and furthermore, it stipulates that such funding should be ‘continually maintained.’ Counties and cities are tiring of having to make up for what the state is unwilling to ante up.”

Figures in this article have been drawn from the NEA’s annual report “Rankings and Estimates: Ranking of the States 2009 and Estimates of School Statistics 2010,” a study that NEA has produced  every year since the 1960s. NEA gathers the information primarily from state departments of education and other, mostly government, sources. For the full report, visit

Allen is the editor of the Virginia Journal of Education.



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