Ranking the best and worst states for teachers: Is it all about pay?

Texas pays teachers the highest starting salary, while New York offers the highest annual salary. But there are several other factors that apply.

Your district’s ability to retain quality educators may depend on where it stands on a new list of the best and worst states for teachers. But before we get to the full rankings, here are a few factors that determined where your state placed:

  • Texas pays teachers the highest starting salary: $46,113 (adjusted for cost of living). That’s 1.5 times higher than the lowest, Montana, at $31,215.
  • New York offers the highest annual salary for public-school teachers: $80,286 (adjusted for cost of living), which is 1.7 times higher than salaries in Hawaii, which, at $47,156, are the lowest.
  • Nevada projects to have seven teachers per 1,000 students by the year 2028, the lowest rate, which is 14 times lower than the District of Columbia’s projected 98.
  • Vermont has the lowest pupil-teacher ratio, 10.34, about two 2.2 lower than the state with the highest rate, Utah at 22.63.
  • New York spends the most per student, $29,897, 3.5 times more than Idaho, the lowest at $8,662.

The rankings, by the personal finance website WalletHub, analyzed 24 key indicators of “teacher-friendliness” as many districts grapple with staff shortages—particularly in STEM and special education—that emerged as a challenge for K-12 well before the pandemic.

Now, reports of worsening morale are becoming the norm, with teachers citing the “teacher pay penalty” that leaves them with lower salaries compared to professionals with similar education and experience. In countless surveys, teachers have also said that respect for their profession has declined while politicians and others are interfering with instruction more frequently and aggressively.

“Leaders in the community and schools must work to create an environment of respect for teachers and support for their work,” Rene S. Parmar, dean of the School of Education at Lehman College, part of the City University of New York. “Salary is important as well, but we see teachers leaving high-paying districts when the working conditions are not supportive or safe.”

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“If local officials disrespect them, parents and Boards challenge their professionalism, the environment around schools is unsafe and poorly maintained, and the local media promotes negativity, teachers will leave,” Parmar said.

Best and worst states for teachers

Here’s where your state ranks, from best to worst:

  1. New York
  2. Utah
  3. Virginia
  4. Florida
  5. Washington
  6. New Jersey
  7. Pennsylvania
  8. Massachusetts
  9. Maryland
  10. Connecticut
  11. North Dakota
  12. Delaware
  13. Minnesota
  14. Georgia
  15. California
  16. Illinois
  17. Indiana
  18. Alabama
  19. Mississippi
  20. Idaho
  21. Kentucky
  22. Wyoming
  23.  Texas
  24. Iowa
  25. Kansas
  26. Ohio
  27. Vermont
  28. North Carolina
  29. West Virginia
  30. Oregon
  31. Rhode Island
  32. Nebraska
  33. Wisconsin
  34. Oklahoma
  35. Arkansas
  36. Colorado
  37. Alaska
  38. South Carolina
  39. South Dakota
  40. Michigan
  41. Tennessee
  42. Nevada
  43. Montana
  44. Maine
  45. Louisiana
  46. Missouri
  47. New Mexico
  48. Arizona
  49. District of Columbia
  50. New Hampshire
  51. Hawaii

It’s not all about salaries

Where states placed in the rankings was not solely determined by teacher pay. For instance, Florida landed No. 4 overall, with high rankings for job opportunities and work environment, but fell among the bottom five states for teacher pay, along with Washington, D.C., South Dakota, Maine and Hawaii. The top five states for teacher pay are New York, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Washington.

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Still, pay is definitely important. Washington, D.C., for example, is at the bottom for teacher pay and among the top five for highest projected turnover, along with Indiana, Virginia, Arizona and Vermont. New York, which is No. 1 for pay, is expected to have among the lowest turnover rates, just behind Kentucky, Montana and Missouri. New York also spends the most per pupil. 

When it comes to the lowest student-teacher ratio, New England dominates the top five: Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Connecticut. The highest ratios are all found in large western states with expansive and remote rural areas: Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, California and Utah.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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