View from the Senate
LITTLE ROCK – Last year the average teacher salary in Arkansas was $48,304, which ranked 42nd in the country. New York teachers had the highest annual salaries.
However, if a cost of living adjustment is applied to average salaries, Arkansas teachers rank 22nd and Michigan is considered the state with the highest teacher salaries.
There are 16 states in the Southern Regional Education Board, an organization that works to improve public education from kindergarten through the doctoral level. Teacher salaries in Arkansas rank twelfth among the SREB’s 16 member states. The top three states are Maryland, Delaware and Georgia.
Florida, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Mississippi are the Southern states in which teacher salaries are less than in Arkansas.
Another perspective on Arkansas teacher salaries is to compare them with the six states on our borders. Texas has the highest average salaries, followed by Tennessee, Louisiana and Missouri.
Oklahoma and Mississippi are the neighboring states where teacher salaries are lower, on average, than in Arkansas.
Legislators also keep an eye on teacher salary rankings within the state. The state Constitution mandates that the state provide an adequate and equitable public education to all children in Arkansas, regardless of where they live.
In the Lake View school funding lawsuit, court rulings cited comparatively low teacher salaries and great disparities in wages among the school districts in Arkansas.
The challenge for legislators is to write a school funding formula that provides equal opportunities in all parts of the state, whether they are prosperous or poor.
Since 2012, the gap between the highest and the lowest average salaries in Arkansas school districts has been greater than $20,000 a year. The Springdale School District consistently had the highest average salary, and this year it is $59,814.
In 165 districts the average salary for all teachers was below the minimum salaries paid by Springdale, which was $47,016 for a beginning teacher with a bachelor’s degree.
The state’s school funding formula is based on student enrollment. Aid is distributed on a per pupil basis. The foundation funding amount is $6,713 per student. That amount can go up depending on other factors, such as the number of special needs students in a district.
Of the foundation amount, teacher pay accounts for about 65 percent of the total. Of the $3.1 billion in total statewide foundation funding for public schools in Arkansas last year, about $2 billion was for teacher salaries.
The legislature sets minimum teacher salaries. Currently, the minimum is $31,400 for a beginning teacher with a bachelor’s degree, and $36,050 for a beginning teacher with a master’s degree. The minimum annual salary goes up by $450 for each additional year of teaching experience. For example, the minimum for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and 10 years’ experience is $35,900.
Individual districts can set their own minimum salaries, as long as they comply with the state minimums. Of the 235 school districts in Arkansas, 30 districts set their minimum at the state level.
The average teacher salaries at charter schools last year was $42,300. Just as there is a gap between salaries at traditional public schools, so there is at charters. The salaries at the highest paying charter school average $53,447 annually, which is $19,408 more than at the lowest paying charter school, which averages $34,039 a year.