Many teachers have had it with stagnant salaries and dwindling resources necessary to effectively do their jobs, and 2018 became the year to do something about it. Beginning in late February, wave of teacher strikes and protests began to spread, affecting thousands of school districts and tens of thousands of teachers and students in Arizona, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Colorado, North Carolina, and Kansas.
While most news coverage of the strikes focused on grievances pertaining to decreases in the average teacher salary by state, the issues go far deeper than take-home pay. Specifically, many teachers are fighting against aging facilities, obsolete and inadequate resources, and a decrease in the amount of state funding per pupil.
Average Teacher Salary by State: Why Are Teachers’ Salaries So Low?
Teachers face a striking dichotomy: while many teachers report high levels of job meaning, they also experience consistently low rates of teacher pay, according to a PayScale study.
The National Education Association reports the five best-paying states for teachers are New York ($79,152), California ($77,179), Massachusetts ($76,981), Connecticut ($72,013), and New Jersey ($69,330).
The five states with the lowest-paid teachers are South Dakota ($42, 025), Mississippi ($42,744), Oklahoma ($44,921), Idaho ($45,409), and Arizona ($45,477).
Compared with the average US household income of $53,046, according to the US Census Bureau, it would be inaccurate to describe the average teacher salary as “peanuts.” The challenge, however, is that becoming a teacher in the United States entails quite an investment of both time and money.
While the requirements for becoming a teacher vary by state, most states require their teachers to have at least a bachelor’s degree and to have completed a teacher preparation program, which often includes a master’s degree. Upon meeting those requirements, future educators must attain certification from their respective states, a process that typically involves a significant amount of time as an unpaid student-teacher.
In other words, many teachers have completed five to six years of preparation prior to beginning their careers in an age when many associated college costs are outpacing increases in compensation.
One of the biggest reasons for the relatively low average teacher salary is the 2008 recession, which saw massive decreases in public school funding at the federal, state, and local levels. Some states made immense cuts to income tax rates, which are the main sources of revenue for the support of many schools. While school funding has gradually improved in recent years, 29 states are continuing to provide less funding per student than they did prior to the recession.
Average Teacher Salary by State: How to Increase Teacher Salaries
As part of its Opportunity Culture initiative, Public Impact argues for redesigning the roles of teachers, which it claims could generate enough funds to pay teachers substantially more. Authors of the study provided several models they say could easily lead to more pay for teachers.
In one proposal, teachers would utilize technology to lead multiple classrooms of students in one or two core subject areas in which they excel for two to four classes. The non-instructional duties and administrative tasks would be turned over exclusively to paraprofessionals or other team members. Because the specialized teachers would be actually reaching more students, additional per-pupil funds would be activated to support the work of the teachers. The added funding—minus the new costs—could be utilized for increased pay and other priorities at the individual school.
The Results of the Protests
In their demands for increased teacher pay and more school funding, some strikes were more successful than others.
- West Virginia With an average salary of $45,642, teachers in the Mountain State eventually agreed to end their strike in exchange for a 5 percent pay increase and an executive order from Governor Jim Justice to improve the insurance offerings for all public employees in the state.
- Oklahoma Because it took veteran teachers in Oklahoma roughly 10 years to reach the $40,000 threshold, an increase in compensation was overdue. The state’s teachers union, however, was seeking increases for just about all employees associated with a school’s operation, including raises for support staff (janitors, cafeteria workers, etc.) and $200 million in overall education funding. Ultimately, after a nine-day walkout, the teachers received a raise averaging about $6,000 depending upon experience, and support staff saw an increase of $1,250.
- Kentucky While teachers in the Bluegrass State sought increased funding for textbooks, technology, and a host of school programs, they were particularly incensed by changes in their pensions that limited the cost-of-living adjustments and the number of sick days that could be put toward retirement. While they lost the fight over the pension reforms, a compromise on the budget plan was reached, including a increase of $4,000 per student in education funding—the highest amount ever appropriated in Kentucky.
- Arizona In the Grand Canyon State, teachers sought a 20 percent pay increase, annual raises that would eventually bring them in line with the national average, and the restoration of education funding to pre-recession amounts. They ended their strike after agreeing to a 20 percent increase over the next three years, as well as increased funding for support staff, technology upgrades, and infrastructure improvements.
- Colorado In addition to increased funding for education, teachers in Colorado also sought improvements to their retirement program. They received a 2.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment and new contributions to their health insurance.
- North Carolina Although they didn’t officially strike, teachers in North Carolina were upset because they had lost roughly 9 percent in pay since 2009 when adjusted for inflation. They were also dissatisfied with the fact that the per-student funding in North Carolina had also stayed roughly the same since the recession in 2008. Even though they received a 6.2 percent increase in pay, some of the teachers were not satisfied and vowed to keep protesting.
While these changes have mitigated the unrest among the country’s educators, many teachers throughout the United States have vowed to refrain from being complacent. “If we don’t see continual improvements in how state leaders prioritize our students,” one teacher said, “there will be accountability in November.”