The Best States for Teachers in 2019

Last Updated: More than 6 months
Though our rankings are for 2019, they are based on average starting salaries for teachers and average statewide salaries for the 2017–2018 school year (the most recent year for which data is available). That means our rankings do not take recent teacher salary initiatives into account for select states. We look forward to updating our rankings next year and seeing how teacher raises affect the overall quality of life for US educators.

Whatever industry you work in, it’s always helpful to know where you can make the most money for the work you do. This is especially important if you’re a teacher, considering teachers are often notoriously underpaid.

So where are the best places to live and teach in the USA? According to our research, Louisiana tops the list.

The starting teacher’s salary in Louisiana is good, though admittedly not among the highest in the country, but the cost of living in Louisiana is relatively low. And the average starting teacher pay in the state is only 5.5% lower than the average annual salary for all occupations. That’s huge for most teachers since in many areas of the country, they struggle to afford the same lifestyle as their neighbors—not to mention the materials they need for their classrooms.

Teachers’ wages in each state also say a lot about the priorities of the state. After all, it’s reasonable to assume that teachers will earn more in areas where education is a high priority and their experience is valued.

That being said, school districts in states like Connecticut may rank lower on our list—not because they value education less than other states (Connecticut actually has the 5th best PreK–12 educational system in the country, according to student test scores)1 but because they might be less affected by the current teacher shortage than other states. That gives them less of an incentive to pay higher teacher salaries.

Naturally, pay and teaching opportunities vary a lot between school districts within each state, but if you’re just starting your teaching career (or you’re looking for a change in your current teaching situation), be sure to read our in-depth findings below to learn more about the best states to live in for teachers.

How we found our rankings

To figure out our rankings, we pulled the average starting teacher salary from the National Education Association (NEA). Next, we compared the NEA’s starting teacher wages to the average salary for “all occupations” within each state (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics). Then we ranked each state based on how well it paid new teachers versus the rest of the workforce.

We focused on entry-level salaries because we figured tenured teaching positions might skew the average teaching salary to be a little high. Unfortunately, that means we did not take the complete pay scale for each state into consideration. So states that rank high on our list based on starting salaries may not offer the best pay for teachers who are well into their careers.

We also want to note that the NEA’s starting salaries by state are pure averages, so they factor in the starting salaries from every school district in each state for only K–12 teachers (elementary school, middle school, and high school teachers).

So what does that mean? First, our rankings don’t factor in the starting salaries for postsecondary teachers (a.k.a. college professors) or technical education teachers. Second, it rolls in the starting salaries for specialists in the K–12 range, like special education teachers (who often make more than general education teachers). Finally, it doesn’t take into account that starting salaries for teachers with master’s degrees tend to be higher than starting salaries for teachers with just bachelor’s degrees.

In the event of a tie, we gave preference to states that offer the highest salary in comparison to the state’s cost of living. This metric factors in the average costs of real estate, rent, food, utilities, and transportation to estimate how much your dollar is worth in each state compared to the rest of the nation. We figured that was an important factor to consider for most teachers, who often need to stretch every dollar to cover their living expenses and classroom costs.

Other interesting finds

  • On average, entry-level teachers are paid 21.8% less than other workers in their states.
  • Colorado had the largest pay gap—40% less than the average salary in the state. That’s especially bad when you consider that Louisiana (our top-ranked state) pays about $7,000 more per year—even though the cost of living in Louisiana is lower.
  • If a teacher moved from Denver, Colorado, to New Orleans, Louisiana, they’d instantly improve their standard of living by approximately 50% (after you factor in the cost of living in Colorado and Louisiana). Things to think about if you’re currently teaching in the Centennial State.
  • Even though the District of Columbia had the highest starting salary for teachers, the area still ranked low on our list (#50) because of the higher-than-usual deficit between teachers’ salaries and the average salary for the area (37.2%).
  • To be fair, though, the average salary in DC is abnormally high—probably due to the high concentration of highly paid politicians and lobbyists in the area.
  • Despite its low ranking, DC actually has one of the best starting teaching salaries in the nation after you adjust for the area’s cost of living. So DC may be one of the best places for teachers to live if you’re focused on maintaining the highest possible standard of living.

Complete rankings

2019 Average Teacher Salaries by State
StateAverage starting salary for teachers2Average salary (all occupations)3Percent differenceRank
South Dakota$38,098$41,800-8.9%3
New Jersey$51,443$58,210-11.6%5
New Mexico$36,405$45,400-19.8%17
North Carolina$37,631$47,200-20.3%21
West Virginia$33,715$42,370-20.4%22
North Dakota$38,611$49,620-22.2%27
South Carolina$33,148$43,210-23.3%30
Rhode Island$41,689$54,810-23.9%31
New York$45,589$61,870-26.3%37
New Hampshire$37,395$52,350-28.6%43
District of Columbia$55,209$87,920-37.2%50

Do our rankings above actually reflect the best states for teachers to work in? Frankly, the jury’s still out.

While our research certainly considers starting pay for teachers in every state, it doesn’t account for many work environment factors that may influence teachers’ happiness and job satisfaction (like professional development opportunities, student-teacher ratio, and certification requirements).

Our research also doesn’t account for the quality of benefits (like health insurance) or the number of teaching opportunities available in each state (and the accompanying level of competition over those positions).

But if you’re a teacher (or you’re thinking about becoming a teacher), this should be a good jumping-off point in your research as you attempt to find the best places to teach in the US.

What do you think of our rankings? Let us know in the comments below!

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  1. U.S. News, “Education Rankings
  2. National Education Association, “2017–2018 Average Starting Teacher Salaries by State
  3. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Occupational Employment Statistics: May 2018 Occupational Profiles