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K-12 Teacher Pay Is Part of the Attainment Conversation in Arizona

June 19th, 2019

By Richard Daniel

Here at College Success Arizona we often talk about the importance of helping more young people in our state go to college and complete a high-value certificate or degree program. We focus on attainment because it represents a powerful way for Arizonans, their families, and their communities to increase their economic stability and mobility. Similarly, increased attainment drives the overall growth of Arizona’s economy and makes our workforce more competitive.

Arizona’s K-12 education system plays a key role in making all of this possible. K-12 schools and districts are responsible for preparing students not just to graduate from high school, but also to be successful in whatever venture comes afterward. This means ensuring that they are college and career ready, so that they have the opportunity to follow whichever path best suits their needs and ambitions.

Regrettably, though, the state is not equipping schools and districts with the resources they need to succeed. The strength of K-12 education in Arizona is undermined by a persistent lack of investment and a persistent educator shortage that results in inequitable access to effective teachers. As a result, many students, especially those who come from historically underserved backgrounds and regions in our state—minority students, students from low-income families, and students in rural schools—miss out on having strong teachers consistently throughout their education

Given that effective teachers are considered to be among the most important factors that positively impact student achievement and growth, the shortage of quality teachers represents a crisis for our state.

A major factor that contributes to Arizona’s teacher shortage is chronically low teacher pay. Although we’ve made modest gains as a state in recent years, we rank just above the bottom when it comes to investing in teachers. Arizona is 48th among all states when it comes to secondary school teacher pay and 49th when it comes to elementary school teacher pay.

According to the Arizona Progress Meter, the median salary (adjusted for the cost of living) for elementary school teachers is $45,353; the national median is $58,230. That’s nearly a 30 percent difference. Secondary school teachers in Arizona also earn well below the national median. Their median salary is $48,693, compared to the $60,320 national median (a 25 percent difference).

Simply put, Arizona cannot expect to address its teacher shortage without investing in teachers. The recent investments the state has made are a step in the right direction, but they are not enough. We must do more to make Arizona a place where teachers want to teach and where they know their work will be valued. Among other things, like substantial professional development and professional mentoring, this requires competitive compensation that is more in line with the national median.

To learn more, please visit: https://www.expectmorearizona.org/progress/teacher_pay/

Dr. Richard Daniel is Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for College Success Arizona. He is a native of Superior, AZ and a graduate of Arizona State University, where he earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. Dr. Daniel directs College Success Arizona’s research and policy efforts, and he is the lead author of the report How Information and Opportunity Gaps Limit College-Going in Rural Arizona.

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