MADISON COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) — It’s teacher appreciation week – an opportunity to recognize teachers’ dedication and the impact they have on students. But, new data shows the appreciation seems to come up short when it comes to pay.

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According to recent data by the National Education Association (NEA), Alabama’s educator salaries were among some of the lowest in the country.

The average starting salary for a teacher is $41,163 ranking 24th out of 50. Even lower, the average educational support professional (ESP) earnings in Alabama were $31,766, ranking 37th out of 50. The minimum living wage is $48,111 in Alabama, according to the NEA.

One local teacher told News 19, “It just solidifies what we already know.”

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools face staffing shortages, which means teachers and support staff are having to take on more responsibilities.

“We’ve all had to fill in a lot more, doing a lot more things than we used to,” Rachel Neeley, President of the Madison County Education Support Professionals Association told News 19.

Neeley is also a bookkeeper in the district and says that educators are pulling double duty because there are no substitute teachers in place, no backup school bus drivers or support staff. 

“It was a big competitive thing to log on and be the first to grab that job for the day,” Neely added. “If you were not up first thing six o’clock in the morning to look for those open positions you weren’t going to get a job but now we can’t fill them at all.”

Neeley said that she constantly sees teachers leaving or they’re having to have to work two jobs in order to make ends meet.

“The way inflation is right now we aren’t able to live paycheck to paycheck anymore,” Neely concluded.

The average salary for ESP has risen from $30,819 in 2011-12 to $35,124 in 2020-21, according to the NEA data.

In April, a record $8.3 billion education budget was approved by Alabama lawmakers and signed by Governor Kay Ivey. Ivey said in her statement this funding will help the state renew their focus on the basics and teach core instruction to the students.