Study: Kentucky teacher pay in the bottom ten of nation

Published 4:00 pm Friday, April 28, 2023

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By Steve Bittenbender

The Center Square

Pay for Kentucky teachers continues to slip. That’s according to a study released by the National Education Association.

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The average public school teacher in the Bluegrass State made $54,574 during the 2021-22 fiscal year. That was $435, or .8%, more than what they made in the previous year.

The minute increases allow other states to jump over Kentucky in average pay. For the 2019-20 fiscal year, Kentucky had the 35th-highest average at $53,908. The following year, the state was 36th at $54,139, and according to Monday’s report, the state now ranks 40th.

Over that same timeframe, Indiana teachers went from making nearly $2,200 less than their Kentucky counterparts in 2019-20 to $22 more last year.

The NEA study uses data from the Economic Policy Institute to determine a teacher’s quality of life in each state. In Kentucky, teachers earn just 75% of what other similarly educated professionals make, and they earn about 10.6% more than what the institute considers the state’s minimum living wage of $49,324. That’s the income an adult and child would need to live modestly but adequately in Kentucky.

The average starting pay for a Kentucky public school teacher last year was $38,010. That was better than the average in only six states.

Not only do Kentucky teachers rank among the lowest paid, but school support professionals are even worse off. Their average salary of $26,686 ranks 48th nationally.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, elected four years with the help of public school teachers, has pushed for significant pay raises. However, the Democratic leader’s plans have met resistance in the Republican-led General Assembly.

State employees received substantial raises in the budget passed last year. However, lawmakers chose to increase the funding sent to school districts and gave them the power to increase teacher and staff pay.

Educational leaders say the low pay has led to districts being unable to fill all their vacancies.

“Kentucky educators continue to fall behind because our legislators don’t value the worth of quality teachers and support staff in our schools,” Kentucky Education Association President Eddie Campbell told The Center Square Tuesday. “To see that Kentucky teachers rank 40th in average salary and our educational support professionals rank 48th, it’s no surprise our schools face a shortage of teachers, paraeducators, bus drivers, custodians, and cafeteria workers. Elected leaders in Frankfort need to decide that they are going to invest in our educators in actual dollars and cents instead of hollow rhetoric. Until they do, Kentucky will continue to see these historical shortages. And Kentucky students—our commonwealth’s future—will pay the price.”

While Kentucky teachers are among the lowest paid on average, their pay still is higher than educators in such neighboring states as West Virginia ($50,315, 50th), Missouri ($52,481, 47th) and Tennessee ($53,285, 45th).

New York remained the nation’s leader in teacher pay, with educators earning an average of $91,097.

And despite seeing their average salary climb 2.2% from the previous year, Mississippi’s teachers remain the lowest paid with an average of $47,902.

The average teacher nationally earned $66,745 in 21-22, which was 2% better than the previous year.