Comparing Teacher Pay by State Offers Heat, but Little Light
I’m going to tell you something you already know: Teacher salaries are higher in Saint Louis and Kansas City than they are in the state’s more rural areas. “Of course they are!,” you might say, “It costs more to live in those areas.” That, my friends, is the point. It costs more to live in some areas than it does in others. That’s why the wages are higher there.
That’s also why I do a facepalm when someone compares Missouri’s teacher salaries to the average salaries in other states.
In a recent press release promoting a new study on teacher salaries, Bruce Moe, executive director of the Missouri State Teacher’s Association, said, “Missouri ranks 42nd nationwide for average classroom teacher pay. That translates to $8,896 less than the national average.”
Let’s do a little test. Here is a cost-of-living map from the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC). It provides an index for each state. Missouri’s cost of living in the 3rd quarter of 2015 was just 91.2% of the national average. Using just this information, what states would you bet have the highest teacher salaries?
Did you guess New York, Washington D.C., or California? Give yourself a gold star!
According to the Digest of Education Statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics (Table 211.60), the average teacher salary in each of these places was over $70,000. Massachusetts and New Jersey also have average salaries higher than $70,000, but each of these places has a cost-of-living that is much higher than the national average (including 149.3% of the national average in D.C.!).
According to MERIC, “Missouri had the 11th-lowest cost of living in the United States for the third quarter of 2015.” We should expect the average teacher salary in Missouri to be below the national average, because the cost-of-living in Missouri is below the national average.
Just as teachers in Saint Louis and Kansas City make more than teachers in Mt. Vernon and Niangua, teachers in New York and California make more, on average, than teachers in Missouri. This is not a bad thing—it simply reflects that it costs a lot less to live here. Not taking that into account yields wildly skewed results, and the MSTA should know better.