State Capitol Week in Review – April 9, 2022

LITTLE ROCK – Average teacher salaries in Arkansas ranked 47th in the nation in 2020, down from 46th in 2019 and 44th in 2018.


Legislators on the Senate and House Education Committees heard a lengthy salary comparison last week, written by legislative staff.


Nationally, the average teacher salary in 2020 was $64,133. In Arkansas it was $50,546.


The top average teacher salaries were paid in New York, California, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. The cost of living is highest in those states, according to an economic index cited by staff.


When average teacher salaries in Arkansas are overlaid with a standard cost of living index, we move up to 28th in the nation in 2020. In 2018 and in 2019 they ranked 22nd and 25th, respectively.


The Southern Regional Education Board compiles education data from 16 southern states. The average teacher salary in the 16 southern states was $55,205 in 2020. Arkansas teacher salaries ranked 13th, but when adjusted for cost of living they moved up to ninth.


The average teacher salary was $51,819 in the six states that share a border with Arkansas. When adjusted for the cost of living, average salaries in Arkansas ranked fourth, which was exactly in the middle of the rankings.


Texas, Oklahoma and Tennessee ranked first, second and third. Missouri, Mississippi and Louisiana ranked fifth, sixth and seventh.


Legislators pay attention to disparities in teacher salaries within the state. For example, last year the Fayetteville School District paid average salaries of $61,682 and the Dermott School District paid an average of $39,263.


Generally, schools in cities pay higher salaries. The average salary in urban school districts last year in Arkansas was $54,912. In rural school districts the average was $47,238.


The disparities in salary exist in charter schools too. Haas Hall Academy in northwest Arkansas paid average salaries of $52,732 and the Imboden Charter School District paid an average of $35,600.


Charters generally paid lower average salaries than regular public schools. Although disparities exist between the salaries paid by individual charter schools, there was not a pronounced disparity between urban and rural schools. Urban charter schools paid teachers an average salary of $43,472 and rural charter schools paid an average of $44,759.


The legislature does not mandate salaries except for minimum levels. Act 170 of 2019 mandates minimum salaries of $33,800 for a teacher with no experience. The minimum salaries go up for teachers with a master’s degree and for teachers with experience in the classroom.


On average, schools pay more than the state-mandated minimum salary. Last year the average minimum salary was $35,799.


Last year 97 Arkansas school districts had minimum salaries at the state-mandated level of $33,800, and 138 districts paid minimum salaries that were higher than the state mandate.


The Springdale School District had the highest minimum salary level, which was $48,242.


Act 679 of 2021 creates a teacher salary equalization fund for school districts where the average minimum salary is below statewide averages. The goal is to bring up salaries in those districts to $51,822.