Utah's three-year freeze on school operating funds has dropped the state's teachers to 42nd place in nationwide salary rankings, according to new figures released by the National Education Association.

Six years ago, Utah ranked 26th.The average Utah teacher salary is $23,023, compared with the national average of $28,044. But Utah teachers also receive an average of $1,863 for career ladder pay, raising them in the national rankings to 40th.

Utah's "weighted pupil unit," the per-child amount the state pays for education, was static at $1,204 per child from 1986 through 1988-89. The 1989 Legislature raised the amount to $1,240, effective for the 1989-90 fiscal year. In addition, public education received a $7.5 million supplemental appropriation for the upcoming school years.

Of the lean years, Jim Campbell, Utah Education Association president, said, "Those were years of economic struggle for Utah. But our state's economy has taken a turn for the better, and Utahns should direct their attention to improvement of compensation for teachers."

Budget increases granted by the 1989 Legislature will likely mean pay raises for teachers this fall.

Utah teachers have the largest class loads in the nation and they work additional days for part of their career ladder pay, Campbell said.