Recent increases in teacher pay haven’t come close to lifting Arizona to the national average, according to a national survey released last week by Expect More Arizona.
Arizona remains 49th for elementary school teachers and 48th for secondary school teachers, despite a state budget that provided money for a 10 percent teacher pay raise last year, concluded the business-based education advocacy group.
Arizona elementary school teachers make an average of $45,353, compared to a national average of $58,230. Utah teachers make an average of $70,000 and New Mexico teachers an average of $53,000, according to the report prepared by the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University.
Arizona secondary school teachers make an average of $48,693 in Arizona and $60,320 nationally. Secondary teachers make $72,000 in Utah, $55,805 in New Mexico and $59,588 in Colorado.
Arizona secondary teachers make about 24 percent less than the national average. Schools would have to provide an $11,000 pay raise on average to catch up.
Arizona teacher salaries have actually declined since 2001 when adjusted for inflation — an 11 to 14 percent drop, the report concluded.
Fortunately, Payson teachers actually beat the national average, according to a recent district salary study. Payson teachers average about $45,893. More years of experience and a higher cap on the salary schedule apparently account for the higher average pay in Payson.
Still, other professions requiring a comparable amount of education and training pay much better, the report concluded. That includes averages for accountants ($67,000), civil engineers ($82,000), occupational therapists ($94,000) and physician assistants ($109,000). However, the teacher salaries represent a nine-month contract, compared to 12-month salaries for other professions.
“If we care about the success of every student, this is an issue we cannot wait to address. Arizona students deserve better than last,” the report concluded. “Investment in our teachers and classrooms will impact our communities and everyone’s quality of life. Arizona should minimally work to move toward the national median.”
The Legislature last year for the first time since the recession put extra money into the school budget to provide a 10 percent teacher pay raise. The just-adopted budget includes money for another 5 percent, with another 5 percent installment promised next year. However, other states have also boosted education spending since the recession, leaving Arizona at the bottom.
Fortunately, Rim Country schools are generally doing a little better than the state average when it comes to teacher pay.
The average Payson teacher actually makes $67,000, according to an informal salary study recently completed by Superintendent Greg Wyman. This reflects a higher than average experience level for the district’s teachers
The school board has devoted most of the new money it has received in the past two years from the state to teacher pay raises, with 10 percent last year and 5 percent this year. This helped boost the salary for a starting teacher from $32,000 to $40,000. This means that the district’s entry level teachers now make an average of $44,000, which is 27 percent more than four years ago, according to the district salary study.
In addition, the district has the highest maximum salary for teachers among the group of 25 comparable school district’s used in Wyman’s salary study. The higher top salary range coupled with greater experience helps account for an average salary that’s $15,000 higher than 25 comparable districts in the salary study. In fact, the average Payson teacher makes more than the average teacher nationally, if you don’t take into account that difference in experience.
Nationally, 8 percent of teachers leave the profession and another 8 percent change schools every year. The turnover rate’s twice as high in high-poverty schools, according to the U.S. Department of Education. In Payson, about half of the families qualify as low income.
One widely quoted 2003 study found half of new teachers leave the profession within five years.
However, a 2015 study by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Educational Statistics concluded the actual figure’s more like 17 percent.