This past summer, the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) met to discuss political strategies and hear from supporters. U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona spoke at both teachers unions’ meetings.  

During the NEA Representative Assembly, Cardona claimed that teachers make less than $40,000 a year. Is that true? 

“So-called leaders … complain about public education but sleep well at night knowing their teachers are making less than $40,000 a year.”
U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona

Mostly false or misleading. Significant errors or omissions. Mostly make believe.

This quote is in reference to the “intentional toxic disrespect against teachers and public schools” that Cardona asserted exists throughout the country.

The Secretary’s quote contradicts the findings of the NEA itself. The teachers union estimates that the national average teacher salary for the 2022-23 school year was $68,469—more than over $20,000 the number Cardona cites. This number marks a 2.6% increase from the previous year.

Average teacher pay did vary widely across states for the 2022-23 school year. Some states—like Washington, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut—have average salaries over $80,000, while other states—such as South Dakota, Mississippi, and Florida—have average salaries just over $48,000. The state with the lowest average teacher salary is Mississippi at $48,530, still above the number Cardona quotes.   

Similarly, USA Facts found that the average public school teacher salary in 2022 was $66,397. This was an increase of $1,104 (1.69%) from the previous year.

Based on the latest numbers, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 82% of K-12 education funding in fiscal year 2021 went toward salaries and benefits for staff. According to estimates from Georgetown University’s Edunomics Lab, only 66% of teacher compensation goes to wages; the rest goes to health care and retirement. This compares to 71% for the private sector. If teacher compensation distribution reflected that of the private sector, average teacher pay would increase by about $5,000 a year.  

While Cardona attacks school choice advocates for their seeming “disrespect” for public education and its teachers, several states passed education freedom bills this year that include teacher salary increases. 

For example, the Arkansas LEARNS Act raises minimum salaries from $36,000 to $50,000, along with creating the Education Freedom Accounts program.

The Funding For Teacher Salaries and Optional Education Act in Utah gives teachers pay raises and funds the state’s new education savings accounts.

Additional states, including Florida, took action on both raising teacher pay and expanding education freedom.

Cardona grossly exaggerates what teachers are paid, and even the NEA’s own numbers conflict his claim. What’s more, the Secretary does not recognize that we can be both pro-education freedom and pro-public school teachers. We can respect public school teachers and also hold public education accountable.           

Over the course of this back-to-school season, Independent Women’s Forum will be exposing misleading and inaccurate quotes from teachers’ unions and their advocates through a series of Unicorn Fact Checks. This is the third Unicorn Fact Check in the series.