A new report shows that the nearly 53,000 teachers in Arizona have the lowest wages in the nation on average.
And teachers in Lake Havasu City and Mohave County are near the bottom of the list.
The analysis of federal employment and wage data by HireAHelper, a California-based company that connects professional movers with clients, found that Arizona ranked 50th in median annual earnings for teachers after adjusting for cost of living. Arizona teachers earned only $47,606 — more than $2,100 less than the adjusted pay for educators in Oklahoma.
The study ranked teacher pay by metropolitan statistical areas.The Lake Havasu City/Kingman MSA, which includes all of Mohave County, ranked 184 of 187 in the small metro cities category. Teachers in this area earn an average of $46,957, according to the study. Flagstaff, Yuma and Sierra Vista-Douglas pay even less, according to the study. Arizona’s two largest metropolitan areas, Phoenix and Tucson, ranked 48th and 50th, respectively, among large cities. The median pay in the Phoenix area is $47,851, while Tucson teachers earn just $44,153.
Lake Havasu Unified has paid particular attention to raising teacher pay in recent years, with 2016’s budget override intended to raise salaries of school district employees. State legislation has also targeted teacher pay.
According to the budget posted on the district website, teachers in Lake Havasu Unified School District are making an average salary of $44,175 in the 2021 fiscal year. This reflects a $582 increase from the average salary in 2020 and 10 percent increase from 2018 when the average salary was $40,120.
Havasu’s board President John Masden said he’s happy that the district has taken steps to address teacher pay and he believes the board would be willing to do more in the future.
“We are a competitive district and we as a board have taken steps to stay competitive,” Masden said. “If we get more money coming in that isn’t already earmarked, then I believe it should go toward the teachers.”
Masden also pointed out that the listed average salary does not include the value of the benefits the district also provides teachers too such as retirement and insurance.
Director of Personnel Jaime Festa-Daigle agreed the district’s approach to benefits has helped address teacher retention.
“We also pay bonus pay outside of base salary, which is not reflected in the teacher salary we report to the state,” Festa-Daigle said. “We also pay all of each educators’ benefits and there are some districts that have chosen to raise pay, but charge for benefits. That being said, at a time when housing prices are rising more quickly than ever and there is competition for teachers, we must focus our attention on salaries.”
Festa-Daigle said that the HireAHelper study shows just how little Arizona spends on education even after the 20 by 2020 movement spurred on by Red for Ed in 2018.
“Teaching is a skilled profession and teachers should be paid as the skilled professionals they are,” Festa-Daigle said. “There is a shortage of teachers across the country, and that shortage is severe in Arizona. This is even more problematic for rural communities where accessing high quality teachers is even more difficult. The teaching profession must be attractive for people to want to enter it, and income is a piece of that.”
Festa-Daigle has recently talked about how the tight rental market and the high cost of housing have also been hurdles to attracting teachers to Lake Havasu City. She also said the low average earnings means there’s a large turnover of teachers in the state, meaning Arizona likely has more teachers with less experience.
Jim Small of Arizona Mirror contributed to this report.