More Apples in Alabama: Teacher Pay by State

By Lydia Dishman

Now that sales of pencils and notebooks are in full swing, kids everywhere are facing the inevitability of going back to school. Their teachers have already been prepping for the new academic year. Though envied for their months long “break” from work, the teaching profession involves some trade-offs. One of the biggest: low pay.

According to data from online salary database, median annual wages for K-12 teachers range between $40,000 and $43,000 while the National Education Association, the largest teacher's union, estimates starting salaries for teachers averaging $35,139 with a bachelor's degree.

That’s not very much when you consider that public four-year colleges charge, on average, $7,605 per year in tuition and fees for in-state students and nearly $12,000 for those out-of-state, according to the College Board. Plus, teachers often choose to pay out-of-pocket for certain supplies or continuing education. One middle school educator in Greenville, SC says she’s spent her summer vacation taking classes at a local university, on her own dime, and getting ready to teach her new English class.

This lack of funding is in stark contrast to the potential influence a good teacher has on their students’ future earnings potential. Eric A. Hanushek of Stanford University found that an excellent teacher (better than 84 percent of teachers) raises each student’s lifetime earnings by $20,000.

Who Earns Most and Least?

Although few teaching gigs are high paid, high school teachers earn more money than those who teach kindergarten through eighth grade. Pay also varies widely by city and state. Teachers in major metropolitan areas such as New York, Houston, Los Angeles and Chicago can earn upwards of $45,000 per year but that number drops more than $15,000 for elementary school teachers in Alabama, for example. Meanwhile, their North Dakota counterparts earn just $28, 400 per year.

Teacher Pay by State

Curious where your state stands on teacher pay? Keep in mind that cost of living plays a role. Bismark, North Dakota versus New York City? There’s a big difference in what a two-bedroom home costs.

Below you'll find the highest and lowest-paying states for teacher pay, according to

10 States with the Lowest Teacher Pay


Elementary School 

Secondary School

South Dakota



North Dakota



West Virginia









North Carolina















10 States with the Highest Teacher Pay 


Elementary School  

Secondary School




New York



New Jersey



District of Columbia









Rhode Island












Source: All salary data is provided by Salaries listed are median, annual salaries for full-time employees with 5-8 years of experience. Salaries listed include all bonuses, commissions or profit sharing.

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