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Arizona is worst state in nation for teacher pay, friendliness, studies find

(Flickr/US Department of Education)

PHOENIX — Nearly a year after Gov. Doug Ducey vowed to better conditions for teachers in Arizona, the state continues to fall behind the national average in teacher pay and teacher friendliness, two studies found.

Arizona has ranked dead last nationwide in elementary school teacher pay and 49th in the country for secondary school teacher pay, according to a recent study from the education advocacy group Expect More Arizona.

But that’s not all: A different study from WalletHub found that Arizona ranked as the worst state in the country for teachers.

Elementary school teachers in the state get paid an average annual salary of $42,474, more than $13,000 less than the national average of $55,800.

The pay for secondary school teachers in Arizona is just $5,000 more, at $47,890, but still falls more than $10,000 short of the national average of $58,030.

The study also found that Arizona would need $1 billion in additional funding just to get state teachers’ pay up to the national median.

Erin Hart, the chief operating officer at Expect More Arizona, said the state could increase the salaries for teachers by expanding Proposition 301, a voter-approved proposition to fund public education and will expire in 2020.

The lack of funding for public school teachers has caused a teacher shortage in the state that has reached “crisis levels,” with more teachers leaving the profession than coming into it each year.

In April, the state House passed a bill that would make it easier to become a teacher, but the 2017-2018 school year kicked off with the same challenges in education Arizona has faced for years.

These challenges have been echoed in the WalletHub study, which also found that Arizona ranked 48th in the nation in per-student spending in public schools and 49th in pupil-teacher ratio.

But the same study found that the state is 44th in the nation in average annual teacher salary.

Jill Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for WalletHub, said the state’s problems in education have more to do with efficient spending rather than funding.

The median elementary-teacher salary in Arizona is $55,617. In contrast, the average pay for a school principal is $88,889.

Regardless of how much they’re paid, Gonzalez said, the low per-pupil spending means that “more money will be taken from the [public school] teacher’s own pocket — especially when it comes to supplies.”

But Joe Thomas, a social studies teacher in Mesa and president of the Arizona Education Association, said low teacher salaries in the state shows “teachers are not being supported so that they can have success with their students, and that’s a shame.”

Thomas, whose group is the largest representing public school teachers in Arizona, said the conditions inside a classroom impact students the most. For example, he said if teachers have large class sizes, students don’t get as much one-on-one attention.

But there is some good news, he said.

“Teachers and students still achieve in about the middle of the pack when you start to look at tests that we can compare ourselves to other states on,” Thomas said, adding that student achievement could be even better if conditions for teachers in Arizona improved.

KTAR News’ Corbin Carson, Kathy Cline and Griselda Zetino contributed to this report. 

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