Study: Teacher pay often not a living wage, but Ohio ranks better

June 27, 2018
Teachers in Dayton Public Schools pushed for better contract conditions in 2017. The district’s starting salary is higher than many local districts, but veteran DPS teachers make thousands of dollars less than surrounding schools. JEREMY P. KELLEY / STAFF

On the heels of national teacher protests over low pay, a new study argues that many teachers with children do not make what is considered a “living wage.” The study found Ohio teachers are in relatively better shape.

The study by Education Resource Strategies compares average teacher salary to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s living wage metric for each state — the minimum income needed to cover basic expenses such as housing, food, child care, medical costs, and other key items.

2018 STORY: Oakwood teacher salary $25,000 more than Dayton

By that metric, the average teacher salary was not a living wage for single-income families with 1-3 children in 30 states in 2016-17, according to the study. Salaries in Colorado, Virginia and Arizona were comparatively worst, at more than 15 percent below living wage.

Ohio’s average teacher salary ranks ninth highest by this metric, at 9.7 percent above living wage, according to the study, which adjusts for local variations.

According to data from the National Education Association, the 2016-17 average public school teacher salary nationwide was $59,660. The highest average salary (New York, at $81,902) was almost double the lowest average (Mississippi at $42,925).

2016 CHART: Compare teacher pay from district to district

Ohio’s 2016-17 average teacher salary was $58,202, ranking 15th nationally. But cost of living also varies widely from state to state, hence this study’s use of a state-by-state living wage metric to compare them.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology living wage calculator offers several variations depending on number of adults, children and workers in a household.

After the ERS study was reported nationally, this news organization questioned the original data, and national ERS researchers acknowledged they had misapplied the calculator.

MIT professor Amy Glasmeier, who created the calculator, confirmed that ERS representatives then contacted her about the issue. ERS then re-ran the data to reach the current conclusions. Adjusting household makeup one way or the other makes more or fewer states’ teacher salary qualify as a living wage.

RELATED: Teacher salary affects recruiting, quality

The ERS study suggested that controlling for inflation, teacher salaries nationwide have been largely flat for decades, and declined in many states since 2010.

Not surprisingly, the study cited federal data showing states that paid teachers the least had more staffing shortages and relied on more uncertified and novice teachers.

Arizona, Colorado, West Virginia and Kentucky are among several states that saw teachers walkouts and demonstrations over low pay in 2018.

The study did show there are two states where average salary is at least 20 percent above the living wage — Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, with New York, Connecticut and Michigan next at plus-15 percent.

2017 STORY: Five things to know about how Ohio teachers are paid

The study also shows that Ohio is slightly above average among states in K-12 revenue as a percent of gross domestic product, ranking 17th.