Detailed Findings & Methodology
Teacher salaries are just one component of a state’s overall public schools spending, and states with low teacher salaries also have relatively low per-pupil expenditures. In the 25 states with higher median annual teacher salaries, per-pupil expenditures exceed the average expenditure of $12,526 per pupil nationwide. Only five states on the lower end of the teacher pay spectrum have per-pupil expenditures that exceed national average spending.
State spending on education, like most other programs and services, largely depends on its revenue.
States that pay teachers relatively little and that have relatively low per-pupil expenditures simply may not be able to spend more. In fact, in states with low teacher salaries, public educational investments tend to be relatively large as a percentage of overall public spending. The opposite is true among states with high teacher salaries — educational investments represent smaller shares of overall public spending. But because revenue is very high compared with other states, education spending is also high.
There is not a strong connection between school resources and student outcomes, although spending under a certain amount can result in poor outcomes. Having at least up-to-date facilities and minimal educational resources can support better test scores, higher graduation rates, and greater future success. But most teachers do not pursue teaching careers in order to make money, which is one of the many reasons outcomes vary considerably across the United States regardless of money spent on education.
To give one example: The median annual salaries of teachers in Iowa and New Mexico, the states with the highest and lowest high school graduation rates, are about the same and not dramatically different from the national median teacher salary.
To identify the states where teachers are paid the most (and the least), 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the median annual salary for elementary, middle, and secondary schools teachers at public and private institutions in every state from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produced by the U.S. Labor Department. Median salaries for all workers in each state are also from the OES. Statewide per-pupil expenditures in every state as of 2015 are for public schools only and came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s survey of school finances. There are many high school graduation rates. We chose the newer adjusted cohort graduation rate, which measures the percentage of public school students who attain a regular high school diploma within four years of starting ninth grade. The cohort is adjusted by adding students who transfer in during those four years and by subtracting students who transfer out. Cost of living figures and came from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and are for 2015, the latest year for which data is available.