Arizona is the worst state in the nation for teachers, according to a new study from WalletHub.
Using statistics from the federal government, education advocacy groups, and various other sources, the personal finance website compared all 50 states and the District of Columbia across several factors, including salaries, school spending, turnover rates, and student-to-teacher ratios.
Arizona ranked dead last.
Arizona teachers have the second lowest annual salaries, when adjusted for cost of living, the study found. The state also ranked 46th in highest projected teacher turnover, had the highest pupil-to-teacher ratio in the country, and was ranked 47th in public school spending per student.
The ranking is unlikely to come as a surprise to teachers in Arizona, who went on strike in 2018 to demand pay raises and increased funding for schools.
The teachers won a 10% raise for the 2018-2019 school year, will receive an additional 5% raise this year, and another 5% raise in the 2020-2021 school year as part of Gov. Doug Ducey’s plan.
Despite these raises, however, Arizona teachers are still among the lowest paid in the nation.
A March 2019 report from the National Education Association (NEA) estimated that Arizona teachers earned an average of $49,892 in the 2018-2019 school year, well below the national teacher salary of $61,782, and a nearly 10% decrease from a decade ago.
“We really still are in a crisis,” Noah Karvelis, an elementary school teacher and the former leader of the Red for Ed Movement, told KTAR in April.
Ducey and the state estimate that teachers will earn $58,130 by 2021, but even that falls below the national average, according to the NEA.
Other issues remain, too. Arizona schools began this academic year with 21% of teaching positions being vacant, according to an Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association survey of 150 school districts and charter schools. Perhaps more troubling was a finding that nearly half of those vacancies are being filled by teachers who do not meet the state’s certification requirements.
The percentage of vacancies is actually an improvement from last year, but some experts are calling on lawmakers to do more.
“While our state has made modest improvements, many of our classroom positions are vacant because our state has not done what is needed to attract and retain talented educators,” Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman said in a statement on Facebook. “To solve this crisis, we need a sustainable source of funding for our education system…If we simply continue down the path we’ve been on, we cannot expect different results.”
Gov. Ducey also pledged in 2018 to restore recession-era spending cuts of $371 million to an education fund that pays for textbooks, software and some capital spending needs. He received $100 million for his plan in 2018 and requested another $68 million this year for the Fiscal Year 2020 budget, but the Republican-led legislature only approved an additional $36 million, bringing the total to $136 million.
The state also included an additional $20 million in the budget to hire more school counselors and school resource officers and funded several K-12 initiatives.
But education advocates have expressed frustration that the state didn’t do more and instead opted to approve $386 million in tax and fee cuts and deposit $542 million into the state’s rainy day fund rather than investing it in education.
Hoffman called the tax cuts “disheartening” and asked “When will be the right time to fund education?”
Some Arizona teachers are wondering the same thing.
Kelley Fisher, a kindergarten teacher in the Deer Valley Unified School District, told KTAR she was disappointed by the tax cuts. “I’m disappointed that my students and our schools were not a top priority,” she said.
WalletHub seemed to agree and ranked Arizona as having the third worst school systems in the country.