AZ teachers face worst ‘pay penalty’ in the nation

Courtesy Economic Policy Institute

The weekly pay of teachers in Arizona is barely two-thirds what other college-educated workers in the Grand Canyon State are paid, the worst rate in the United States.

The analysis from the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank based in Washington, D.C., found that public school teachers in every state are paid less than their similarly educated peers. Arizona teachers faced the worst salary penalty: 32.6 percent.

EPI teacher pay penalty

“Providing teachers with a decent middle-class living commensurate with other professionals with similar education is not simply a matter of fairness,” the EPI report states. “Effective teachers are the most important school-based determinant of student educational performance. To promote children’s success in school, schools must retain credentialed teachers and ensure that teaching remains an attractive career option for college-bound students. Pay is an important component of retention and recruitment.”

EPI teacher pay penalty

While many states were forced to cut education funding in the wake of the Great Recession, the report’s authors note that the recession “can’t be blamed for the erosion in teacher pay.” The teacher pay penalty began accelerating in the mid-1990s, and post-Great Recession, states that have cut taxes have markedly worse relative pay for teachers.

Gov. Doug Ducey pledged as a candidate in 2014 that he would cut taxes every year he was in office. His predecessor, Jan Brewer, enacted the largest tax cuts in state history in 2011, cutting corporate taxes by roughly 30 percent.

“Reduced spending for K–12 schools and the corresponding cutbacks in teacher salaries were conscious policy choices and were frequently done to accommodate tax cuts for corporations and the rich as well as an ideological commitment to smaller government,” the report states.

The report also notes that four of the seven states with the largest wage penalties for teachers – Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina and Oklahoma – were the site of large-scale teacher protests in 2018.

Jim Small
Jim Small is a native Arizonan and has covered state government, policy and politics since 2004, with a focus on investigative and in-depth policy reporting, first as a reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times, then as editor of the paper and its prestigious sister publications, the Yellow Sheet Report and Arizona Legislative Report. Under his guidance, the Capitol Times won numerous state, regional and national awards for its accountability journalism and probing investigations into state government operations.


  1. Are you including the job security, health and pension benefits that teachers receive in the comparison. Also, a huge number of college graduates cannot get a job in their field and are not included in the survey. LEt’s get real with real TOTAL compensation comparisons, including the pay scale for long-term employment.

  2. Yes. That’s included. Job security is not what you think. The numbers are based off total compensation, as those are the numbers made publicly available.

  3. The very word ‘teacher’ has become synonymous with whining.
    The medium Az income (2016 Census) was $53,558.00. the graph shows teachers at $62,140.00 (1,195. x 52). This is for an 8 month a year, 6 hour a day job with every holiday known to man and a few extra in-service, prep, etc. added in.
    I don’t see the Red for Ed crowd being very vocal during their spring, winter and summer breaks. Possibly they don’t want to remind the working class that they have plenty of time to protest.
    Do teachers buy craft supplies? Possibly. Do carpenters, mechanics, Uber drivers and many others have to buy the very tools they need to do their jobs. Yes.
    Teachers appear to be adequately compensated for an important job in our community. This is not a job for everybody, no job is, but it’s a job they like. If it’s no longer fulfilling maybe they should take their college degree and move on.


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