High-profile teacher strikes in a handful of states earlier this year could be a foreshadowing of issues in newly configured state legislatures in 2019. School funding and teacher pay drove at least 177 teachers to run for election in recent midterm elections, and at least 42 of them won, mostly in statehouse races.
Nationally, teachers were paid an average annual salary $60,483 in the 2017- 2018 school year, according to the most recent data available from the National Education Association.
In general, teachers in K-12 public schools are paid about 30 percent less than comparably educated U.S. workers, according to the Brookings Institute. Globally, U.S. teacher salaries lag far behind, even when compared to Finland, known for its meager teacher salaries. The Brookings Institute said that to match salaries in Finland would require a 10 percent raise for elementary school teachers, an 18 percent raise for middle school teachers and a 28 percent raise for high school teachers.
While more teachers lost their elections than won, teachers still tout the impact their activism had on voters. Among those who won offie was a high school social studies teacher in Oklahoma who joined his colleagues in a 10-day strike in April. The state’s average teacher pay is the third-lowest in the country, according to the NEA data.
“Today, let’s take back our state and our nation for the people — for working families, for kids, for students, and for teachers,” the teacher, John Waldron, wrote on Facebook hours before he was elected to Oklahoma’s state legislature. In office, he will become part of the Education Caucus, a group of bipartisan lawmakers with direct ties to education.
The Oklahoma Education Association said the caucus, which includes current and former teachers, support professionals and school administrators, grew from nine to 25 members in the midterm election.
“There are now more educators in the state legislature than ever before,” the association said in a statement. “No matter how you look at it, public education won.”
Waldron was among nearly 60 Oklahoma teachers who ran for public office in the midterm election. Of them, six won their races in the general election, according to Education Week.
Low pay and school funding cuts aren’t sitting well with America’s teachers.
West Virginia teachers were the first to walk out and strike for higher pay. State lawmakers approved and the governor signed a bill that would boost teacher pay 5 percent. In the 2017-2018 school year, West Virginia teachers earn an average of $45,642, according to data from the National Education Association, well below the national average.
Emboldened by the nearly two-week strike in West Virginia, teachers in Arizona, Oklahoma and Kentucky also swarmed statehouses demanding higher pay and more funding for public schools. Some Arizona teachers staged a sick-out in March to protest their salaries, which averaged $47,746 last year.
In Oklahoma, the average teacher salary was $45,678, just a bit higher than in West Virginia. Teachers went on strike in Oklahoma for nine days. Teachers also walked out to protest their pay in Kentucky, where the average teacher earned $52,952 last school year.
Iowa is one of the states expected to take up education funding and salaries in the upcoming session. Its Legislative Service Bureau put together the teacher salary comparisons, along with teacher pay as a percentage of household income in 2017. The report used data from the National Education Association, as well as the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey.
Here’s how the states ranked:
- New York: $83,585
- California: $81,126
- Massachusetts: $79,710
- District of Columbia: $76,486
- Connecticut: $73,113
- New Jersey: $69,917
- Maryland: $69,761
- Alaska: $69,474
- Pennsylvania: $67,398
- Illinois: $66,778
- Rhode Island: $66,758
- Oregon: $63,143
- Michigan: $62,702
- Delaware: $60,484
- Wyoming: $58,578
- Vermont: $58,572
- Ohio: $58,000
- New Hampshire: $57,833
- Hawaii: $57,866
- Nevada: $57,812
Click here for the full list.