10 States That Pay Teachers the Highest (and Lowest) Salaries

teacher salaries protest
Teacher salaries protest in Miami, Florida | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

For around seven hours each day, teachers across the United States are in charge of making sure students learn to read, write, and figure out that 2 + 2 = 4. Their job description gets a little more nuanced as students grow older, but it’s no less important as the basics, since English literature and geometry eventually prepare them for college or a career. Any teacher will tell you that their day doesn’t end when the final bell rings — then it’s on to their own versions of homework in the evening. It’s why teachers landed on our list of jobs that are more difficult than you might think. The designation is well deserved, especially considering that many public school teachers make far less money than their peers with other college degrees.

Despite generally low earnings, at least compared to other college grads, there are still numerous college students who choose to enter the teaching field, specifically in public schools. Starting salaries are often shockingly low for teachers, but wages do have the ability to rise generously as they gain experience.

According to a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, the ratio of teacher’s wages compared to the wages of other college graduates is consistently lower. In fact, there is not one state in which teacher wages are equal to or better than other college degree-holders. On a national average, teachers earn just 77% of what other college graduates are making, the EPI reports.

However, if you’re looking to start a career in teaching, some states offer pathways to a higher paycheck than others. Here’s a look at the states that pay the most, and least, on average.

States with the highest teacher salaries

Desktop with books, red apple, reading glasses
Teacher’s desk | iStock.com/tab1962

Each year the National Education Association (NEA) — the largest teacher’s union in the country — releases a comprehensive report about how states use their money for education. A part of this report includes information about teacher salaries broken down by state. The most recent report, released by the union in May 2016, includes salary estimates for the 2015-16 school year. The average salary for that year is estimated to be $58,064 for all public school teachers.

The highest-paying states all had average salaries that were higher than the national average. Though the rankings change from year to year slightly, the highest-paying states for teachers stay roughly the same. Here are the top 10 states for teacher salaries, based on the 2016 estimates. 

10. Pennsylvania

liberty bell
Visitors at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Average teacher salary: $64,991

Pennsylvania has been the 10th-highest paying state for teachers for three years running. According to the EPI report, teachers in the state earn 87.1% of the salary that other college graduates do, the 7th best in the nation. When adjusted for the cost of living, Pennsylvania teachers also make the third-highest salary, according to a WalletHub analysis. From the 2013-14 school year to the estimates for the 2015-16 year, teachers in Pennsylvania saw an average wage increase of 2.03%, just below the 2.53% average increase among the top 10 best-paying states.

9. Rhode Island

Providence, Rhode Island
Providence, Rhode Island | iStock.com/Sean Pavone

Average teacher salary: $66,197

Rhode Island was in the No. 8 spot for two years, but fell to No. 9 for the 2015-16 school year. However, teachers in Rhode Island earn 95.8% of the salary that other college graduates in the state do. That’s second-best in the nation, only behind Wyoming. Intriguingly enough, Rhode Island scored poorly in the WalletHub analysis, ranking at No. 42, with particularly poor results for the job opportunities and competition category. 

8. Maryland

Maryland state capitol
Maryland state capitol | Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Average teacher salary: $66,482

Maryland teachers saw an average salary increase of 3% from the 2013-14 school year to the 2015-16 year, more than Rhode Island’s increase of 2.32%. With a comparable salary, it’s likely why the two states swapped rankings in the most current year, with Maryland’s salaries slightly edging out that of Rhode Island’s.

7. Alaska

Byers Lake, Alaska is the closest view to Mount McKinley
Denali in Alaska | iStock.com/mbarrettimages

Average teacher salary: $67,443

The U.S. residents living closest to the North Pole still need to get a decent education, and Alaska evidently pays its teachers well to stay. Alaska teachers earn 93.8% of the salary that other college-educated professionals do, the third-best ratio in the nation. Salaries for teachers have risen 2.36% in the state over the past three school years.

6. New Jersey

Newark, New jersey
Newark, New Jersey | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Average teacher salary: $69,330

Though teacher salaries in New Jersey have risen just 1.6% over the past three school years — the lowest rate among the top 10 — it still ranks as the best state for teachers according to WalletHub. New Jersey teachers earn 86.5% of the salary that other degree-holders earn in the state, good enough to place at the No. 9 spot in the EPI’s report.

5. Connecticut

Seaside Park in Bridgeport, Connecticut
Seaside Park in Bridgeport, Connecticut | iStock.com/kosukeyuki

Average teacher salary: $72,013

Many of the top-paying states in the nation are located in the Northeast, and Connecticut continues that trend. It has consistently been the fifth-highest paying state in the nation, with a 2.03% wage increase over the past three school years. Highly ranked academic and work environments were enough to land the state at the No. 10 spot in WalletHub’s analysis as well.

4. California

Highway 1 in California as the sun sets
Sun setting on California’s Highway 1 | iStock.com

Average teacher salary: $72,842

Breaking with geography, California is the only western state in the contiguous U.S. with a high-paying salary. Average salaries rose $1,446 from the 2013-14 school year to an average of $71,396, good enough to represent a 2.03% increase. Teachers in California earn 85.8% of the salary that other college graduates do, sadly good enough for the No. 10 spot in the nation.

3. Washington, D.C.

Washington DC, USA skyline
Washington, D.C. skyline | iStock.com/Sean Pavone

Average teacher salary: $75,810

Teaching in a district in our nation’s capital is a notoriously tough gig, according to WalletHub’s analysis, but teachers are compensated well for their efforts. Teachers in the area have seen a raise on average of 3.62% over three school years. That ranks as the second-best among teacher increases, even though the nationwide trend for salaries is a 3% increase every year.

2. Massachusetts

Worcester, Massachusetts, USA
Worcester, Massachusetts | iStock.com/Sean Pavone

Average teacher salary: $76,981

Our tour of high Northeast teacher salaries continues in Massachusetts, which has shifted between the No. 2 and No. 3 spots for the past three school years. An average raise of 4.24% over that time — the highest among the top 10 states — was enough to solidify its place as the second-highest paying state in the nation for the 2015-16 school year. Massachusetts also ranked at the No. 2 spot in WalletHub’s report, with high ranks for job opportunities and work environment.

1. New York

Albany, New York state capital
Albany, New York’s state capital | iStock.com/lavendertime

Average teacher salary: $77,957

New York is known for its educational prowess, and the teacher salaries reflect that. The state has easily held the No. 1 spot for the past three school years, often $1,000 or more above the next-closest state average. Even a modest 2.03% increase over those years has kept the state comfortably ahead of other state’s teacher salaries. According to the EPI report, New York teachers earn 91.3% of the salary other college graduates in the state do, the fifth-highest ratio in the nation. However, New York was only at the No. 7 ranking for WalletHub’s analysis, with a slightly lower work environment ranking than Massachusetts.

Altogether, the salary differences between the top 10 states in the nation are quite drastic. Almost $13,000 per year separates teachers in New York and Pennsylvania, a salary difference of just under 20%.

States with the lowest teacher salaries

According to the NEA’s report, all of the lowest-paying states in terms of teacher salaries allot far less than the national average — more than $10,000 less each year, in fact. The differences between the bottom 10 states in terms of salary don’t have quite the spread that the top 10 do: The salary differences fall within $6,000, with a percentage difference of about 14%.

Many of these states are marked with more rural communities and likely a lower cost of living, but not all of the payment gaps are explained by those factors. When the EPI looked at the teacher pay gaps and salary ratios, half of the states with the lowest teacher salaries are also at the bottom of the list in terms of earnings compared to other college graduates living in those states. In other words, teachers simply don’t command as high of a salary in these states.

10. Missouri

Kansas City, Missouri, USA
Kansas City, Missouri | iStock.com/tomofbluesprings

Average teacher salary: $47,849

The lowest-paying states for teacher salaries fluctuated more in the past three school years compared to the top 10, but Missouri has more or less stayed around the 10-worst spot in terms of teacher pay. Teachers in the state have seen an average raise of 2.35%, however, which is one of the highest in the group — and well above the bottom 10 average of 1.31%. Unfortunately, Missouri teachers only earn an average of 67.8% of the salaries of other college graduates in the state, the seventh-worst ratio in the nation.

9. New Mexico

Albuquerque new Mexico
Albuquerque, New Mexico | iStock.com/alex grichenko

Average teacher salary: $47,163

Teachers in New Mexico earn just 66.2% of the salaries of other college graduates, the fourth-worst ratio in the nation. Teachers in the state have seen an average raise of 3.14% over the past three school years, more than many in the bottom tier, but the starting point is so low it’s difficult to catch up.

8. Louisiana

Dusk falls over Bourbon Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans, 11 July 2006, almost one year after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. For tourists strolling through the French Quarter it's easy to forget that Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans a year ago. The beignets are fresh, trinkets and designer clothes are artfully arranged in shop windows, and hurricanes are spinning in the bars on Bourbon Street. But while the music, food and good times have come back, the crowds have not and the city is struggling to make ends meet while its main industry remains crippled. With more than 10 million visitors a year, tourism was once a 5.5 billion dollar industry in New Orleans, accounting for 40 percent of the city's tax revenues and employing 85,000 people. (Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)
New Orleans, Louisiana | Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Average teacher salary: $46,733

In the 2013-14 school year, Louisiana ranked No. 34 in terms of average teacher salary, with teachers earning around $49,067. However, the salary has actually fallen since that time by 4.76% — the only state to experience a wage decrease in the top or bottom 10 states. As a result, teachers in the state now earn the eighth-worst salary of the nation’s educators. It’s unclear if there is a correlation or not, but WalletHub also ranks Louisiana schools as the worst in the nation.

7. Utah

Provo, Utah
Provo, Utah | iStock.com

Average teacher salary: $46,042

Teachers in Utah have only seen an average raise of 0.76% over the past three school years, and teachers make only 70.3% of the salary of other degree-holders. That’s the ninth-worst ratio in the nation. WalletHub also points out that teachers in Utah have the second-highest pupil-to-teacher ratio in the country, behind only California. Not only are teachers being paid less, but they’re being asked to educate a larger number of students each year.

6. West Virginia

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
Harpers Ferry, West Virginia | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Average teacher salary: $45,977

Overall, West Virginia scored as the second-worst state for teachers in WalletHub’s report, only above Hawaii. The state’s relatively low salary surely was a factor in that, along with a generally small raise of 1.98% over three school years.

5. Arizona

Phoenix Arizona with its downtown lit
Phoenix, Arizona | iStock.com/Dreamframer

Average teacher salary: $45,477

Teachers in Arizona have only gotten an average 0.31% raise over the past three school years, the lowest increase among the lowest-paying states. The EPI report shows that Arizona teachers earn just 62.8% of the salary that other college degree-holders do in the state — the lowest ratio nationwide. The state scored as the third-worst for teachers according to WalletHub, at least in part because the state spends the second-least amount of money per pupil on education, ahead of only Indiana.

4. Idaho

sun valley, idaho
Sun Valley, Idaho | Mark Davis/Getty Images for Sun Valley Film Festival

Average teacher salary: $45,409

Idaho teachers earn 77.3% of the salary that other college grads do in the state, which is just above the national average of 77.0%. In that sense, Idaho’s low teacher salaries could be accurately reflective of the state’s low cost of living. Though $45,400 isn’t a huge salary, it’s also had a 2.12% increase over the past three school years — higher than the average increase for the bottom 10 salaries.

3. Oklahoma

oklahoma city
Oklahoma City | SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Average teacher salary: $44,921

At a three-year raise of 0.83%, wage increases have been almost nonexistent for educators in Oklahoma. Teachers make 67% of the salary others do with a college degree, the sixth-worst ratio in the country. The cost of living might not be as high as other states, but there’s clearly a discrepancy between teacher salaries and the earnings of other Oklahoma residents.

2. Mississippi

Mississippi State marching band
The Mississippi State Bulldog Marching Band | Rick Dole/Getty Images

Average teacher salary: $42,744

Teachers earn the second-lowest average salary in Mississippi, where three school years have yielded only an average raise of 1.32%. Mississippi has consistently been in this spot for three years, with income likely at least part of the reason it ranked at a dismal No. 47 on WalletHub’s school rankings.

1. South Dakota

Sioux Falls, South Dakoka
Sioux Falls, South Dakoka | iStock.com/shyflygirl

Average teacher salary: $42,025

South Dakota ranked slightly better than Mississippi in WalletHub’s analysis at No. 46. Still, the state has consistently paid teachers the lowest salary nationwide. A low cost of living adjustment doesn’t hold up under scrutiny as an excuse, either: WalletHub reports that teachers in South Dakota still have the second-lowest salary in the nation, only better than extremely expensive Hawaii. That’s despite a 5% salary increase over the past three school years, higher than any state on either list. Salaries are rising, but not enough to budge them from the bottom spot.

The difference is shocking when you compare the salary of teachers in South Dakota to those in New York. There’s more than a $35,000 difference in annual pay, meaning teachers in South Dakota make 85.5% less than their professional counterparts in New York.

Other wage factors

There are some states that fall in the middle of the pack that have relatively good salary values, even if they don’t command the highest paychecks in the nation. Wyoming is an example. Wyoming’s estimated salary for the 2015-16 school year was $57,761, according to the NEA, just below the national average. However, the state’s low cost of living means the salary provides adequate means. It also ranked the highest in the teacher wage gap study from the EPI. Teachers in Wyoming earn 98.6% of the salaries that other college graduates in the state do, the highest in the nation.

Wyoming also ranked No. 4 in Wallet Hub’s analysis, and had the fourth-highest salary when it was adjusted for the cost of living, according to WalletHub. The downside? Wyoming also ranked for being a highly competitive state to become a teacher — likely a combination of low populations and relatively high salaries for the profession.

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