University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Hey! What About Arkansas’ Teacher Pay?

In The View from the OEP on April 3, 2018 at 1:33 pm


In light of the recent events surrounding teacher pay in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Arizona, we wanted to take a moment to review recent OEP research about teacher pay in these states and in Arkansas.  Also, be sure to register for the OEP conference on April 24th that will address teacher pipeline issues including teacher pay!

In our report, we used three methods to examine teacher pay across the nation.  First we examined average teacher salary for each state, then we adjusted the teacher salary for state cost of living in the state, and finally we indexed the average teacher salary to the median income in the state.  Table 1 provides these values and the national ranking for each, focusing on the states that are ‘in the news’ for teacher salary.

Table 1. Average Teacher Salary, Adjusted Teacher Salary, and Median Income IndexTCHRsalary

Are teachers salaries in these states exceptionally low? It depends on how you look at it.

Let’s take West Virginia as an example. As can be seen in Table 1, West Virginia’s average teacher salary was $45,977 in 2015-16, which ranked 46th out of the 50 states and DC.  So yes, West Virginia teachers have a low average salary compared to other states. The cost of living in West Virginia is slightly below the national average (95), so when we adjust the average teacher salary by the cost of living it increases slightly to $48,397.  The state’s national ranking is essentially unchanged at 47th.  So yes, even after adjusting for the cost of living, West Virginia teachers have a low average salary compared to other states. West Virginia has one of the lowest median household incomes in the nation at just over $41,000. The average teacher in West Virginia earns 110% of the median income value for the state, which ranks 12th highest in the nation. This means that West Virginia teachers earn more compared to the typical household in West Virginia than their peers in most other states.

In Oklahoma, the average teacher salary is near the bottom, increasing slightly when adjusted for cost of living, declining a few spots when compared to median household income for the state. Kentucky stands out among the included states, because the average teacher salary is near the national average, and ranks 15th when adjusted for cost of living, and 4th when compared to median household income for the state. Arizona teachers are among the lowest paid in the country, no matter which metric you consider.

Arkansas’ average teacher salaries rank 40th nationally, but increase to 22nd after adjusting for our state’s low cost of living.  The average Arkansas teacher salary is 117% of the median income for the state, ranking 7th highest in the country.

Teacher salaries are generally determined by local districts, as they are in Arkansas, or negotiated through contracts with teacher unions. We suggest that teacher salaries should reflect strategic goals of the local education agency and/or the state.  Want to attract more quality applicants into teaching?  Raise starting teacher salaries!  Want to increase applicants to high poverty districts?  Provide bonuses, loan forgiveness, or other incentives for those teachers.  There are many ideas about how adjusting teacher salaries can positively influence student learning, unfortunately, across-the-board-raises for current teachers isn’t one of them.

A couple of things to note:

  1. The average teacher salary is just that, an average for the state.  Teacher salaries often vary based on education and experience, which is not captured in this information.  It is possible that teachers in some states are more educated and experienced than teachers in other states, which could account for some of the difference in average salary.  Also, this does not capture the minimum starting teacher salary, or the ‘top of the scale’ salary. In the report we completed for Arkansas, we control for teacher experience and education in district-by-district salary comparisons.
  2. Cost of living can vary significantly within states, so a more detailed analysis can  identify the relative ‘purchasing power’ of teacher salaries by district.  We present this information for each Arkansas district in the teacher salary report.
  3. We acknowledge that teachers are required to complete additional education to obtain their license, and the typical household is not.  We are not suggesting that teachers salaries should be tied to the median income for their state, but rather view the median income as an indicator of state resources, and the relationship between teacher salaries and household income as a reflection of the value being placed on teachers in the state. Information about the relationship between Arkansas districts and the median household income in their communities is included in our teacher salary report.


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