See more of the story

Teachers unions across Minnesota have pushed for higher-than-typical raises in contract negotiations this year, saying boosts in pay are overdue and necessary to bolster efforts to recruit and retain teachers amid widespread educator staffing shortages.

Some have managed to negotiate salary boosts of 4%, 6% and even 10% in deals that, in some cases, were worth nearly the same amount their districts received through last year's $2.2 billion state investment in schools.

But just as teachers unions cite the rising cost of living as one reason they deserve pay boosts, districts are also bemoaning inflation and scrambling to balance budgets without the millions in pandemic relief funds that run dry this year.

Wages and benefits proved a sticking point in negotiations between St. Paul Public Schools and its teachers union, which this month reached a tentative agreement less than a week before a planned walkout. Union members ratified the deal this week and said it includes 4% raises next school year, among other things. According to district leaders, it is not expected to add to the district's $107 million projected deficit for 2024-2025.

The Minneapolis school district is in ongoing mediation with its teacher union amid what district leaders say is a $110 million deficit for next year.

"Recent historic new state education funding has helped immensely," said Minneapolis Public Schools finance director Ibrahima Diop at a recent school board meeting. "But that amount is not keeping up with the national increase in cost of operation that we see."

Investing in public schools and public teachers takes work at the federal, state and local level, said Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, the largest national teachers union. In the State of the Union address this month, President Joe Biden said he wants to "give public school teachers a raise," and the Minnesota Legislature invested historic amounts into education last year, she said.

"What we're saying is local districts also have to do that," Pringle said. "If all three levels are working together, that's where you're going to be able to raise salaries to the level that is commensurate with the important work our educators do."

Here's how Minnesota teachers are paid:

Salaries in the largest Minnesota districts

According to data from Minnesota's educator licensing board, average teacher pay among the 10 largest districts in the state ranged from about $70,000 a year in Mounds View and Rochester to over $89,000 in Wayzata. Those numbers are from last year — before the latest pay raises were negotiated and went into effect.

In St. Paul, the average teacher salary last year was about $87,000.

The average salary for Minneapolis teachers is $76,000. The district is in mediation with the teachers union, which was initially pushing for an 8.5% salary increase for teachers in the first year of the next contract and 7.5% the following year.

No. 18 in the nation

A report by the National Education Association ranked Minnesota 18th in the nation for average teacher pay last year.

Minnesota's teachers make $64,200 on average — about $2,500 less than the national average. The highest average, $91,100, was in New York. Mississippi's average, $47,900, ranked the lowest in the country.

The average starting pay for teachers in Minnesota was about $42,300, slightly less than the national average, according to the association. The lowest-ranking state for starting pay was Montana, where new teachers make $33,500 on average. Washington, D.C., ranked the highest, with an average starting salary of more than $56,000.

Bottom and top scale

Most school districts in Minnesota base teacher compensation on education and years of experience. Teachers enter a "lane" based on their highest level of education and progress through "steps" in the salary schedule determined by years of experience.

First-year teachers with a bachelor's degree make between $45,000 and $50,000 in Minnesota's five largest districts: Anoka-Hennepin, St. Paul, Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan, Minneapolis, Osseo, and South Washington County.

Teachers at the top step and lane in those districts — those who have earned a Ph.D. and have two decades of experience — can earn more than $100,000. The pay raises agreed to in the latest contracts in Anoka-Hennepin and South Washington County school districts pushed their top scales above $100,000.

Minnesota teachers make nearly 28% less than other comparable college-educated workers in the state, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit think tank based in Washington, D.C. That gap is about 26% nationally.