University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Arkansas’s Teacher Salaries

In The View from the OEP on November 29, 2017 at 1:17 pm

teacher pay

Are teacher salaries in Arkansas higher or lower than in other states?

Which districts pay better than others in the same area?

Are certain types of districts more likely to pay higher teacher salaries?

How can lower-paying districts find revenue to increase teacher salaries? 

Here at the OEP, we have been asking these questions and are pleased to release our analysis of Arkansas teacher salaries! Both the Policy Brief and the Full Report include information about how Arkansas teacher salaries compare nationally, to other southern states, and to the states that border us. We also examine differences in teacher salary by region and what district characteristics are most associated with higher average teacher salaries.

Here’s what we found:

Are teacher salaries in Arkansas higher or lower than in other states?

When you do a straight comparison across the country, Arkansas’s average teacher salary of $48,220 ranks 40th out of the 51 states (including D.C.).  The highest average teacher salary of nearly $78,000 is paid to teachers in New York. Compared to the states surrounding us, Arkansas’s average teacher salary ranks 3rd (out of 7- including us).

As you pack your bags to follow that high salary, you should remember that it will cost a lot more to live in New York.  We thought about that too, and adjusted the average teacher salaries in each state by the cost of living.  Arkansas’ cost of living is below average, so the adjusted average teacher salary of $54,733 is pretty close to New York’s adjusted salary of salary of $58,307 (plus, there’s less traffic here, which should count for something!). After adjusting for cost of living, Arkansas’s average teacher salary ranks 20th in the country.  Arkansas’s cost of living adjusted salary is 2nd highest among the surrounding states.

Another way to examine the ‘value’ of the average teacher salary is to compare it to what other folks in the state earn.  We find that the average teacher in Arkansas earns 117% of Arkansas’s median household income.  This Median Income index ranks Arkansas’s teacher salary 7th highest in the country! You might want to keep packing though, because the average teacher in New York earns 132% of the median household income in NY, and take the top ranking in the nation. Compared to the surrounding states, however, Arkansas ranks #1 on this salary measure.

Here at OEP, we think the cost of living adjusted measure may be the most meaningful method for comparing teacher salaries, and we were excited to see how competitive the state’s teacher salaries are, especially when compared with neighboring states.

Which districts pay better than others in the same area?

We conducted a bunch of analysis examining teacher salary within and between regions of the state, and found that there are wide variations in what the average teacher earns. Regionally, teachers in the Central region of the state earn the highest salaries with an average salary in 2015-16 of $52,230, but Springdale School District in the Northwest region was the district that paid the highest average salary in the state at $59,143.

Located in the same region as Springdale, Mulberry’s average teacher salary was $35,460, indicating that the average teacher in Mulberry earned nearly $24,000 less per year than Springdale’s average teacher.

A quick check of ADE’s myschoolinfo shows that there are differences between the districts in the average teacher’s years of experience.  The average teacher in Springdale has 11.6 years of experience, compared to Mulberry’s 4.4 years. Since teacher salary generally increases with additional years of experience, we wondered if that was what was causing the difference?

We used district-level salary scales to compare what the average salary would be in each district if they all employed teachers with the same levels of experience and education. As opposed to the average teacher salary, which is directly effected by the experience and education of the teachers hired by the district, this “Scale Salary” identifies districts with the most (and least) ‘generous’ salaries overall.

Using this scaled measure, Springdale is the most ‘generous’ district in the Northwest region, although the average scale salary of $53,343 is lower that the raw average salary (reflecting that the raw average is inflated by higher than typical teacher experience and education levels). Mulberry’s average scale salary, on the other hand, increased to $36,417 and is not the ‘least generous’ district in the region.

Well, then we thought about the high teacher salaries in New York, and that maybe it costs more to live in some communities than others. Unfortunately, cost of living data are not available at the district level, so we used median household income instead. Under this measure, Springdale teachers earn 130% of the median income in the county, while Mulberry teachers earn only 82%.

You can see the full list of districts and the key salary measures in excel here.

Are certain types of districts more likely to pay higher teacher salaries?

Throughout the state, the scaled salary reduced the differences in average teacher salary, but substantial variations in pay teacher remained.  The median income of the counties also informed the salary discrepancies, but given that districts all receive the same per-pupil funding from the state (read more here), we wondered WHY districts were paying teachers such different salaries?

So, we did what we do and ran some analyses to determine if certain district characteristics. You can read the nitty-gritty details in the full report, but here’s what we found:

Student-teacher ratio and total district enrollment had the most significant, positive impact on average teacher salary. Per-pupil expenditure had a significant, but modestly positive impact on salary. In contrast, the percent of students who are eligible for free and reduced lunch (FRL) had a significantly negative impact on teacher salary.

In practical terms:

  • Increasing student-teacher ratio would be expected to have the largest impact on teacher salary. In a district that employs 50 teachers, if each teacher’s class was increased by one student, the average teacher salary would be expected to increase by about $1,815, holding all other factors equal.
  • Increasing district enrollment would be expected to have a small impact on average teacher salary. While perhaps more difficult to increase, an increase in district enrollment of 100 students would raise average teacher salary by an estimated $53, holding all other district characteristics constant.
  • Increasing per-pupil spending by $100 is associated with a $102 increase to average teacher salary, holding other factors constant.
  • The impact of a 16% increase in district FRL results in approximately a $1,420 decrease in annual teacher salary.

School district leaders cannot control the number or the type of students who enroll in the district,  and they may be unable to increase per-pupil spending.  Student-teacher ratio, however, is something that districts can adjust. District leaders have control over the number of teachers they hire, and therefore the number of students for which each teacher is responsible

Consider our example of Springdale and Mulberry. Springdale enrolls over 20,000 students, while Mulberry serves fewer than 350. The percentage of students who are eligible for free/reduced lunch is similar in both districts (71% and 75%, respectively).  According to myschoolinfo, Springdale’s student-teacher ratio is 15 to 1, compared to Mulberry’s student-teacher ratio of 6 to 1. Consider Springdale’s higher average scale salary of $53,343 and Mulberry’s lower average scale salary $36,417. Mulberry teachers actually get paid more per student than their peers in Springdale.

How can lower-paying districts find revenue to increase teacher salaries?

School district leaders have control over the number of teachers they hire, and therefore the number of students for which each teacher is responsible. In an effort for smaller or lower-paying districts to recruit high quality teachers with a competitive salary, they may consider increasing student-teacher ratios within their districts. There is some research to suggest that class sizes no larger than 17 students to a teacher are associated with increased student performance as measured by test scores, and it is worth noting that student-teacher ratio may not represent class size because districts may employ ‘teachers’ who do not work in a classroom with specific students.

The overall student-teacher ratio within the state of Arkansas is 11 students per teacher, and much smaller in some districts. Increasing the student-teacher ratio is one way that local school districts could re-capture revenue to use to increase average teacher salary. Each district has the opportunity and responsibility to establish their local salary scale and ensure that it is attracting and retaining high-quality teachers for their students.


  1. Let us compare teacher salaries to other fields with the same level of education. IE Master’s level

    • Thanks for your comment! While we were focused on comparing teacher salaries to other teacher salaries in this report, researchers have found that teachers with a BA or MA in education do not earn much as those with similar degrees in other subject areas or working in other fields. Teachers in Arkansas are WAY more likely to have a degree- only 21% of Arkansas’s adults (25yrs+) have a BA or higher, but 53% of educators have a BA and 42% have a MA!

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: