Are teachers in Arizona really starving? One might have thought so, based on their cries of anguish during this year's legislative session.
Actually, they're not doing badly at all, thanks to the largest tax increase in state history approved by voters in 2000.
Latest figures from the National Education Association rank Arizona's average teacher pay for 2001-02 at 26th in the nation, far above the “worst in the nation” we hear so often at budget time.
Arizona teachers fare even better when compared with income levels of other employees in the state. It's fair to take into consideration average income levels, as well as Arizona's relatively low tax burden and cost of living.
When Arizona teachers' pay is looked at as a percentage of per capita personal income in the state, they rank 15th in the nation — at 155 percent, significantly above the national average of 147 percent.
Michael Hunter, vice president of the Arizona Tax Research Association, adds additional context to the numbers by pointing out that Arizona's teachers are among the least experienced in the nation — at an average of 13.1 years — due mainly to high demand for new teachers because of rapid growth. Hunter drew that figure from the nation's second largest teachers' union, the National Federation of Teachers.
Despite Arizona's enormous financial challenge of building enough schools to keep up with growth during the past decade, teachers also have enjoyed substantial raises throughout that period. According to the NEA, between 1991 and 2002, inflation-adjusted salaries for all instructional staff, including teachers, principals and counselors, increased 8.7 percent — 11th highest in the nation.
All of this, in our opinion, is fine and dandy. Teachers perform an exceptionally important job in our society, and they deserve to make above-average salaries. And it's gratifying to know, based on teachers' union figures, that they indeed do.
We should keep it that way.
And let's put to rest the myth and rhetoric about Arizona's teachers being at the bottom of the heap. It just isn't so.