The state with the lowest average teacher salary in the US is Mississippi, at around $48,000 a year. However, $48,000 in Mississippi may look very different from $48,000 in New York.
To compare teacher salaries across states, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) created the Comparable Wage Index, which normalizes teacher pay by cost of living and cost of labor in each state. With NCES data on state-by-state average salaries for public K-12 teachers, as well as the comparable wage index, clear patterns about the states where being a public school teacher is more financially rewarding emerge.
Overall, New York and Massachusetts K-12 teachers are compensated more, relative to other earners and cost of living, than teachers in the rest of the country. Using this analysis, public teacher pay is the lowest in Florida and Arizona.
While teacher pay can vary along other characteristics, including the subject taught and the teacher’s race and gender, distinct patterns emerge from state-by-state comparisons.
In 2021, the average K-12 public school teacher nationwide was paid $65,090. Average teacher pay was the highest in New York at $87,738, followed by Massachusetts and California. In three states — Mississippi, Florida, and South Dakota — teachers made less than $50,000 on average.
The Comparable Wage Index, developed by the NCES and US Census Bureau, is based on the earnings gap between teachers and comparable professionals in the same geography. This index provides a more accurate comparison of how much investment different states are putting into teacher salaries and reflects both cost of living and differences in amenities in each area.
For example, a typical teacher in Maryland earns about 8 cents less per dollar than comparable professionals outside the K-12 industry, while a teacher in Wisconsin earns 9 cents more. In 37 states, a typical teacher earns less per dollar than they would in other industries.
Normalized for these wage and cost of living differences, average teacher salary is lowest in Arizona, Florida, and Mississippi. Public teacher pay is the highest in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New York.
While the highest- and lowest-paying states are relatively similar after accounting for cost of living, there are some notable differences. Virginia ranks in the middle of the country in terms of absolute average pay, but it ranked 48th in index-adjusted pay in the country. On the other hand, West Virginia had one of the lowest average teacher salaries in the country in absolute numbers, but when index-adjusted, it ranks 26th among states.
Registered nurses, accountants, software developers, and graphic designers are common jobs that all require similar levels of education to teachers.
Of these four occupations, registered nurses and software developers are paid more on average than teachers in every state. The same is true for accountants, except for in Hawaii, where accountants are paid around $1,000 less than teachers. Graphic designers are paid less on average than teachers in all but five states: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, and Virginia, as well as Washington, DC. These five states all rank in the bottom 11 states for teacher pay adjusted for cost-of-living differences.
Although this occupational state data provides helpful state-by-state comparisons about pay across industries, it also highlights how financially unrewarding being a teacher often is, regardless of the state. Enrollment in teacher enrollment programs has declined in 39 states since 2008.
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