Arizona teachers face worst ‘pay penalty’ in the nation, again




#redfored teacher pay
#RedForEd marchers as they moved toward the Capitol in April 2018 as part of a protest over low teacher pay. Photo by Jesse Stawnyczy | Cronkite News

Arizona teachers are paid less than two-thirds of what other workers in the state with college degrees are, the worst pay gap in the nation, according to a new analysis of labor statistics.

According to the analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data by SmartestDollar.com, teachers in the United States make 15.7% less than other full-time employees with a bachelor’s degree. But in Arizona, teachers make 33.5% less than their college-educated friends and neighbors.

At the other end of the spectrum, teachers in New York and Rhode Island are paid about 6% more than other workers with college degrees.

The analysis also identified cities with the largest teacher pay gaps. Among metro areas with more than 1 million residents, Tucson had the worst salary penalty for teachers at 37.5%. The Phoenix metro area was close behind, at third-worst in the nation, with a pay gap of 34.2%.

Among small metro areas, four of the top 15 are in Arizona: Yuma (31.5%), Flagstaff (28.2%), Lake Havasu/Kingman (21.3%) and Prescott (21.2%). 

A separate report last year also found teachers made less than other degree-holders in Arizona than in any other state. 

That report linked the lack of education funding to pay Arizona teachers to a series of tax cuts enacted in the state since the 1990s, and continuing under Gov. Doug Ducey.

“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 concluded.

Teacher salaries have stagnated since the 1980s: In 1988, the average public teacher’s salary was $60,529 in constant 2017-2018 dollars, slightly more than what teachers make today. At just under $60,000, median teacher pay falls in between the median pay for associate’s degree holders and bachelor’s degree holders, despite a majority of teachers holding a post-baccalaureate degree.

In November, Arizona voters will decide whether to increase taxes on the wealthiest Arizonans to provide an estimated $940 million to K-12 schools each year. Half of that money would be dedicated to increasing teacher salaries.

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.