PA Tops 2024 List Of Best States For Teachers

Written By Walter Yuhl on April 17, 2024 - Last Updated on April 24, 2024
Photo of classroom chalkboard with a bouquet of gerbera daisies with headline text Best States for Teachers.

Engaged educators are vitally important to the future of the U.S. economy, so we must reverse this trend.

Widespread unhappiness has resulted in the highest teacher turnover rate in U.S. history.

According to The Hill:

“U.S. schools are now facing a shortage of up to 300,000 teachers and staff.”

The Hill notes that the high turnover is due to low wages, burnout, violence in schools, and restrictions about what can and can not be taught.

Key takeaways

  • Pennsylvania is the best state for teachers because of the amount it spends per student compared to the state’s budget per capita.
  • New York boasts the highest average teacher salary ($91,097), exceeding the state living wage by 66%.
  • Teachers in New Jersey earn 92% of what other similarly qualified professionals earn, the highest percentage in the nation.
  • At least 10% of teachers take a second job, and surprisingly, California teachers take fewer than the rest of the nation, while New Jersey and Montana take the most
  • Utah had the lowest teacher turnover rate; Arizona had the highest.
  • The average class size in Colorado is a manageable 13 students, while teachers in Minnesota have an average class size of 24.
  • Teachers have more power in states with collective bargaining, yet sadly, six states passed laws prohibiting it.

The best (and worst) states for teachers

We recognize the best state to be a teacher varies on several factors. There are plenty of happy teachers in states that we rank toward the bottom, and there are unhappy teachers in the best states.

We aim to highlight those states where policy and budgets support our educators.

The rankings are based on nine key metrics and include Washington, D.C.

Vector US map titled 10 Most Teacher Friendly States

The top states for teachers

Pennsylvania 

While Pennsylvania scored well in most categories, what launched it into first place was its spending per student compared to the state’s budget per capita. While other states spent more per student, they also had bigger budgets. Pennsylvania used more of its money per student than other states.

New York

The Empire State also scored high in most categories. What put it near the top was a teacher’s salary higher than the state’s living wage by 66%.

Teacher happiness matters

The U.S. public schools employed 3,192,475 teachers in 2021‒22.

According to RAND, a professional research organization, “Teacher dissatisfaction with hours, salary, and working conditions appears to drive poor well-being and lead teachers to consider leaving their jobs.”

The least teacher-friendly states

Vector US map titled 10 Least Teacher Friendly States

Mississippi and Louisiana came in as the least teacher-friendly.

While both states had low overall scores, Louisiana scored the lowest in 30% of the categories. Mississippi earned its “F” as one of the very few states to have enacted legislation prohibiting teachers from organizing to petition for higher wages and better working conditions.

Teacher appreciation that goes beyond the week

To help us understand teacher happiness, we talked to teachers and looked at various surveys and statistics to develop our list.

Salary was consistently a top issue, which went hand in hand with the living wage, pay gap, working a second job, and collective bargaining.

The ability to teach was another looming issue voiced by the teachers we spoke to and was evident in our research.

This had much to do with autonomy and class size.

Tyler Andrews spent 15 years teaching in California, Texas and Spain. He left the profession two years ago and now works for Catena Media as the managing editor of NCSharp.com. He had this to say about the state of the teaching profession:

“The Texas teacher pay scale is relatively low compared to other salaried jobs in Texas cities. Young teachers who don’t see a financial future on that pay scale consider teaching a stepping stone to a better job. They also receive heavy oversight by instructional coaches, administrators, and other district leaders. This pulls them in various directions, typically resulting in lots of box-checking and form-filling to satisfy their mentors. It’s a major cause of burnout.

“I saw plenty of new teachers worn down by school leaders who required them to submit lengthy lesson plans and complete extensive assessment reflections. Leaders always pitched this oversight as “support” and “scaffolding,” but it was mostly just a time suck and a killjoy.”

Additionally, we also examined how state legislators support teachers via education budgets and collective bargaining. We used data on teacher turnover to get an idea of which states turn Teacher Appreciation Week into a teacher appreciation agenda

The ranking metrics:

  • Pay
  • Salary vs. living wage
  • Pay gap
  • Second jobs
  • Autonomy
  • Class size
  • Education budgets
  • Turnover
  • Collective bargaining

Teachers make less money every year

Teacher pay is a hot topic. Most teachers realize an annual raise, yet pay increases are often lower than inflation, meaning they make less money yearly.

The National Education Association (NEA) found that teachers’ average pay nationwide is $3,644 less than 10 years ago, adjusted for inflation.

It’s not only teachers; support staff are impacted, too. Almost 40% of full-time K-12 education support professionals earn less than $25,000 annually.

The states that show teacher appreciation with the highest average salary in the country include:

  • New York ($91,097)
  • Massachusetts ($89,538)
  • California ($88,508)
  • Washington, D.C. ($82,523)
  • Washington state ($81,510)

Compare those salaries to that of Mississippi, which has an annual average salary of only $47,902.

PlayUSA infographic titled Average Teacher Salary is a grid map of the US that shows the average teacher salary in each state ranking in sequential colors from lowest in dark red to highest in dark blue.

Teacher pay compared to the cost of living

There is more to the pay equation than the numbers on a paycheck. Salary relative to the cost of living is an important metric. The biggest question we are trying to understand with this comparison is can teachers afford to live?

The difference between teaching salaries and living wages varies greatly across the states. Most states pay their teachers at least a living wage, which is not high praise. Sadly, however, not all states pay teachers enough to live on.

PlayUSA bar chart titled Living Wage Versus Teacher Salary

Only five of the top states paying more than the living wage exceed 50% of the living wage. Here are the top states and the percentage above the state living wage:

  • California: 63.69%
  • New York: 66.02%
  • Washington: 54.82%
  • Pennsylvania: 53.23%
  • Maryland: 50.38%

At the other end are states paying below the living wage – not enough money to live.

  • Vermont: -26%
  • Hawaii: -18.45%
  • South Dakota: -1.34%
  • West Virginia: -0.19

Are teachers being paid fairly compared to other professionals?

Teachers are leaving education at higher rates than ever before. Low pay is one reason, but the other is that a plethora of other professions pay more, with fewer demands on one’s time outside of classroom hours.

How does teacher pay compare to other college-educated professionals with similar experience? The pay gap metric addresses that.

Not one state pays teachers the same or more than they could earn in another profession.

New Jersey does the best in paying its teachers compared to other equitable professions. Only 8% less than other professions.

Colorado, on the other hand, pays its teachers 37% less than professionals with similar experience.

PlayUSA bar chart titled States and the Pay Gap lists states smallest and greatest pay gaps.

In some states, teachers require a second job to survive

Many teachers take a second job. Some teachers have summer off, which allows them to earn extra money or do seasonal work they love. Others, though, need a second job to make ends meet.

At least 10% of teachers take a second job.

California and Washington have the fewest teachers with second jobs, while in Montana and New Jersey, close to 1 in 4 teachers take on an additional job.

PlayUSA bar chart titled Teachers with Second Jobs shows the top 10 states with a low percentage of teachers working a second job and the bottom 10 states with a high percentage of teachers working a second job.

Who controls what teachers teach?

Pay is not the only employee motivator. Autonomy in employment plays a large role in job satisfaction.

Overall, teachers generally feel they have control over selecting texts, topics, and teaching techniques and evaluating and disciplining students as they see best. The average percentage of teachers indicating that they have control over six key aspects of their jobs differed by only 13.32%.

Teachers in Wyoming indicated they have the most freedom in managing their classroom, while those teachers in Louisiana feel slightly less freedom.

Class size makes it easier for teachers to teach

While studies are inconclusive on how class size affects learning, teachers overwhelmingly prefer smaller classes. It makes it easier to manage multiple learning styles effectively and makes it easier for students to learn.

Class size varied significantly across the nation.

Colorado teachers had the least number of students in class, with an average class size of 13. Minnesota teachers have nearly double the number of students in their classrooms compared to Colorado teachers.

PlayUSA infographic titled Crowded Classrooms lists states with the most and least crowded classrooms.

Evaluating education budgets and per-student spending

How well states fund education indicates how much they value their teachers. States do not have unlimited budgets; they allocate funds to what they consider most important.

We recognize that big states with big budgets might have higher dollar amounts, but it might seem paltry compared to what they spend on other things. So, we correlated each state’s per-student spending with their per capita budget to determine which states allocate the most to education.

This is where Pennsylvania really shines, followed Illinois and Oklahoma coming in a distant second and third, respectively.<h2> Teacher turnover impacts the future of education

In all but two states, teacher turnover is due to teachers leaving before retirement. Retirement was less than a third of all turnover in all but Oregon and New Jersey.

Teacher turnover plagues the nation

Annual teacher turnover ranged from just over 8% in Utah to 24% in Arizona. In 30 states, only 25% of teachers leave the profession due to retirement.

Not all states had turnover data.

States with the highest turnover

  1. Arizona
  2. New Mexico
  3. Louisiana
  4. Texas
  5. Nevada

States with the lowest turnover

  1. Illinois
  2. Pennsylvania
  3. New Jersey
  4. West Virginia
  5. Utah

Collective bargaining for better pay and working conditions

While collective bargaining may not directly impact a teacher’s happiness, its effect on the profession does.

Collective bargaining gives teachers more power in states. It allows teachers to organize and bargain for better compensation, benefits, improved working conditions, and more effective student learning environments.

States fell into three categories:

  • States with collective bargaining laws for teachers
  • States with no laws but collective bargaining can take place
  • States that prohibit collective bargaining for teachers

One would expect states that support teachers to have collective bargaining laws, and most states do. Thirty-five states have collective bargaining laws protecting teachers.

One can also see the possibility of less teacher-friendly states not codifying collective bargaining into law but allowing it. Nine states fall into this category.

It is difficult to imagine state legislatures would prohibit collective bargaining by law, making it difficult for teachers to lobby for betting working conditions, but six states do.

States with laws prohibiting collective bargaining for teachers:

  • Arkansas
  • Georgia
  • Mississippi
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • Texas

What is the best state to be a teacher?

Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania tops our list for many reasons, the most important of which is per-student spending. While the dollar amount is not as high as in other states, the amount of money Pennsylvania spends per student, compared to the state’s budget per capita, is the highest in the U.S.

Its average class size is 19, the pay gap is near the top at $0.84 compared to other similarly qualified professionals, and the turnover rate is near the bottom.

The results clearly show that Pennsylvania is the best state for teachers.

Methodology

We compiled data from the following sources:

  • Macro Learning
  • National Center for Educational Statistics
  • National Education Association
  • The Learning Policy Institute

The metrics, except collective bargaining, were scaled to 100 based on the state with the best result.

  • Teacher salaries were scaled to 91,097:100 (New York)
  • Salary vs. living wage was calculated using the formula ((Average teacher salary – minimum living wage) / minimum living wage) * 100 and scaled to 66.02:100 (New York)
  • Pay gaps were scaled to 92:100 (New Jersey)
  • Second jobs were scaled to 23.5:100 (Montana and New Jersey)
  • Class size is based on an average of elementary, middle, secondary, and combined grades for self-contained and departmentalized classrooms (2020-21 school year). Class size was scaled to 24:100 (California)
  • Spending per student in each state was correlated with the per capita budget for each state. The corresponding ratio was scaled to 7.313:100 (Pennsylvania)
  • Turnover is based on the order of state with highest to lowest turnover, 1 – 45. Six states, HI, NH, RI, VT, WY, and DC, did have turnover data. Turnover was scaled to 45:100 (Utah)
  • Autonomy scores were tabulated as a percentage of positive responses and scaled to 97.05:100 (Wyoming) The criteria used:
    • Selecting textbooks and other instructional materials
    • Selecting content, topics, and skills to be taught
    • Selecting teaching techniques
    • Evaluating and grading students
    • Disciplining students
    • Determining the amount of homework to be assigned
  • Collective bargaining was the only variable not scaled. States were divided into three categories:
    • Laws supporting collective bargaining (two points added the final score)
    • No laws for collective bargaining (Tennesse is unique and placed in this category, and zero was added to the final score)
    • Laws prohibiting collective bargaining (two points were subtracted from the final score)

Sources

Learning Policy Institute

Marco Learning

National Center for Education Statistics

National Education Association

RAND Corporation

The Hill

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How states ranked for overall teacher appreciation

For access to the raw data and calculations, email [email protected].

StateTeacher SalaryPay GapSalary vs. living wageEducation budgetClass sizeAutonomySecond jobTurnover ratesScoreCollective BargainingFinal score. (Adjusted for collective bargaining)
Alabama61.2993.0024.3124.6275.0094.4065.1051.1161.100.0061.10
Alaska81.3377.7824.1924.6488.0098.1788.5026.6763.662.0065.66
Arizona62.3795.1712.2523.0167.0096.0176.202.2254.280.0054.28
Arkansas57.7485.3927.7415.3275.0096.0174.0053.3360.57-2.0058.57
California97.1479.9696.4730.7654.0097.24100.0082.2279.722.0081.72
Colorado66.0099.5220.2330.8575.0098.0164.7040.0061.790.0061.79
Connecticut89.1978.8742.7753.5483.0096.4960.4080.0073.032.0075.03
Delaware72.0072.3514.3154.4975.0091.7255.7022.2257.222.0059.22
Florida56.2581.044.8937.0267.0090.7568.5046.6756.522.0058.52
Georgia68.2789.7446.4239.9775.0092.5977.9066.6769.57-2.0067.57
Hawaii73.5074.52-27.9424.3188.0099.6180.8058.972.0060.97
Idaho59.5787.5715.0126.975.0099.4073.2060.0062.082.0064.08
Illinois79.4085.3955.9486.3783.0099.0476.6091.1182.112.0084.11
Indiana59.9183.2212.0951.767.0098.0955.0035.5657.822.0059.82
Iowa65.4277.7822.4962.4171.0097.7379.1055.5666.442.0068.44
Kansas60.4085.396.3029.8671.0098.0152.3037.7855.132.0057.13
Kentucky59.9185.3916.1122.4875.0098.8956.6033.3355.960.0055.96
Louisiana59.3889.7414.1822.9767.0086.3057.906.6750.520.0050.52
Maine64.4784.3012.4043.44100.0099.9348.9086.6767.512.0069.51
Maryland83.1887.5776.2927.2679.0090.5570.6073.3373.472.0075.47
Massachusetts98.2982.1369.6851.2183.0096.7567.2057.7875.762.0077.76
Michigan71.2782.1356.5818.6867.0095.1363.4068.8965.392.0067.39
Minnesota70.4989.7434.4748.7375.0099.4871.5031.1165.072.0067.07
Mississippi52.5874.522.4420.9688.0094.7664.2017.7851.91-2.0049.91
Missouri57.5791.9117.8530.8292.0098.5764.2048.8962.732.0064.73
Montana58.9178.871.2737.6883.0098.8443.4013.3351.912.0053.91
Nebraska63.0383.2215.3638.683.0097.0062.5084.4465.892.0067.89
Nevada63.4379.962.6916.8358.0094.8982.5011.1151.182.0053.18
New Hampshire68.9290.833.2861.6796.0098.7252.8067.462.0069.46
New Jersey86.7468.0034.6052.4988.0096.2643.4095.5670.632.0072.63
New Mexico59.5988.6524.3523.0492.0097.4081.304.4458.852.0060.85
New York100.0074.52100.0043.5883.0097.7684.2077.7882.612.0084.61
North Carolina60.1487.5720.4168.9871.0095.6757.4020.0060.15-2.0058.15
North Dakota61.0881.0415.3711.3183.0099.7965.9042.2257.462.0059.46
Ohio70.6874.5252.6133.3379.0097.6473.2064.4468.182.0070.18
Oklahoma60.1094.0923.9372.5675.0098.2677.0015.5664.562.0066.56
Oregon77.2389.7423.2211.3358.0097.5077.4075.5663.752.0065.75
Pennsylvania80.1476.7080.5910075.0096.5770.2093.3384.072.0086.07
Rhode Island84.3069.0938.3628.3778.0092.4868.5065.592.0067.59
South Carolina60.1269.0931.1029.8867.0096.0147.7024.4453.17-2.0051.17
South Dakota55.5477.78-2.0327.9788.0099.0951.1071.1158.572.0060.57
Tennessee58.4886.4821.1929.1875.0092.2453.2062.2259.750.0059.75
Texas64.5684.3052.2843.8279.0094.2679.608.8963.34-2.0061.34
Utah65.4989.7430.4314.9663.0097.3176.20100.0067.140.0067.14
Vermont68.9973.43-39.3735.7579.0099.0967.2054.872.0056.87
Virginia67.4094.0938.1611.1488.0095.0859.1044.4462.180.0062.18
Washington89.5089.7483.0215.867.0096.89100.0088.8978.862.0080.86
Washington, D.C.90.5979.966.9588.0066.382.0068.38
West Virginia55.1981.04-0.2925.7988.0098.7365.9097.7864.020.0064.02
Wisconsin66.7084.3021.2928.5979.0098.8263.0028.8958.822.0060.82
Wyoming66.7969.098.1816.6288.00100.0056.2057.840.0057.84
Walter Yuhl Avatar
Written by
Walter Yuhl

Walter (Way) Yuhl is a freelance writer and business professor. Way has written for the Arizona Daily Sun, Flagstaff Business News, Bangkok University, and Shandong University of Science and Technology as well as edited content for the U.N., Thailand International airports, and other organizations. He has worked with Cantena Media since 2019.

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