updated 7/3/2005 5:36:56 PM ET 2005-07-03T21:36:56

The typical starting salary for teachers should be $40,000, the head of the country’s largest education union said Sunday, pledging a renewed fight for higher pay.

But the National Education Association’s challenge is enormous. Not a single state pays its new instructors an average of $40,000, with the U.S. average hovering close to $30,000 for beginning teachers, according to the American Federation of Teachers, another teachers union.

NEA president Reg Weaver, speaking to reporters at the union’s annual meeting, said his officers will work with their state and local chapters to lobby state leaders and school boards.

Weaver, poised to begin his second three-year term as the union’s president, said higher pay for veteran teachers and classroom aides will also be a political priority for the NEA. No cost for the ideas was given, but they would likely require hundreds of millions of dollars or more.

“The issue is where the money is going to come from,” Weaver said. “And to respond to that, my answer is I don’t care. I don’t care where the money comes from. Because when this country thinks and decides that something is important, they find the money.”

Teacher pay has long been a point of contention within education. Salaries are often seen as an important reason why schools struggle to hire and keep teachers, which is particularly true for young instructors, men and minorities, Weaver said. But an increasing number of states and districts want to make classroom performance or student scores a bigger factor in teacher pay.

Overall, teachers were paid an average of $46,752 last year, a slight raise that did not keep pace with inflation, the NEA says. Pay is usually based on teacher seniority and education.

The pay proposal is part of a broader NEA priority list to close the achievement gap between white and minority children and reach out to minority communities. The NEA push comes as it is at odds with the Bush administration. The union has sued the federal government over Bush’s No Child Left Behind law, arguing that it puts unfair financial burdens on states and districts.

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