Kansas teacher salaries in bottom third of nation

The average salary of Kansas teachers was $7,741 less last year than those elsewhere in the nation, according to a new survey from the country’s second-largest teachers union.

On average, Kansas teachers earned $38,030 in 2002-03, up 2.6 percent over the previous year, the 1.3-million member American Federation of Teachers said in an annual report. That put the state 39th among the 50 states and Washington, D.C.; Kansas ranked 40th last year.

On average, U.S. teachers earned $45,771, up 3.3 percent, according to the survey, which relies on data from state education departments.

“It has a ways to go before it even equals the average national teachers salary,” Janet Bass, a Washington, D.C.-based spokeswoman for the AFT, said Wednesday of Kansas. “It’s going to have trouble attracting and keeping teachers.”

California led the nation in the survey, with teachers earning an average of $55,693; Michigan and Connecticut followed. South Dakota, with an average pay of $32,414, was at the bottom of list.

Kansas fared better than most of its neighbors earning more than teachers in Nebraska, Missouri and Oklahoma, which was 50th on the list. Colorado, however, ranked 22nd.

Still, union officials said Kansas also must compete with states such as Texas, which has an average starting salary about $5,000 higher.

“Bottom line is, it just goes to show, we remain noncompetitive,” said Mark Desetti, a lobbyist with the Kansas-National Education Association.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius admitted there is room for improvement.

“We owe it to our children to do a better job keeping our talent in the classrooms of Kansas,” she said in a statement. “Taxpayers and parents need to be assured that school dollars are paying teachers and not funding layers of administrative bureaucracy.”

The average salary of a first-year teacher was $28,855 in Kansas in 2002-03, putting the state 39th in the nation, up two spots from last year. Alaska topped that list with an average starting salary of $36,035, followed by New Jersey and Washington, D.C. On average, the lowest beginning salary was in Montana, which was $22,344, according to the AFT numbers.

The cost of living in Kansas hovers around the national average, but Bass said that doesn’t justify its ranking toward the bottom of the list.

“I would hope someone with the job challenges that teachers have, that mid-career they’re making more than $38,000,” she said. “We have to place a value on the work that teachers do.”

The American Federation of Teachers is the second-biggest teachers union in the country, behind the National Education Association. Aside from public school teachers in grades pre-kindergarten through 12, it also includes paraprofessionals, higher education faculty, and health care workers.