Topeka In his State of the State speech Tuesday, Gov. Sam Brownback called for phasing in a $600 million increase in yearly public school funding over five years, and he made it clear where he wants some of that money to go.
"We should have a higher average teacher pay than any of our surrounding states," Brownback said.
According to salary surveys conducted by the National Education Association, Kansas is already part of the way toward meeting the goal, with average teacher salaries ranking third in the five-state region, and not far behind second place. However, reaching first place may be more difficult, an official with the organization said.
NEA's most recent "Rankings and Estimates" report shows that in 2016, average teacher pay in Kansas was $47,755.
That ranks 42nd among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, according to NEA, but it is considerably better than Oklahoma, where average teacher pay is $45,276, which ranks 49th in the nation. Only Mississippi and South Dakota rank lower.
In the Lawrence school district, average teacher pay is higher than the state average, at $50,325, according to figures provided by the district.
Kansas also ranks higher than Colorado, which is 46th in the nation at $46,155.
And Kansas is only slightly behind Missouri, where average teacher pay is $47,957, which is 40th in the nation. An increase of $202 a year, or roughly a 0.4 percent pay raise, would tie Kansas with Missouri.
Nebraska, however, is currently setting the standard in the region. Average teacher pay in the Cornhusker State is $51,386, or 7.6 percent higher than Kansas. That places Nebraska 28th in the country.
But Marcus Baltzell, communications director for the Kansas NEA, said in a phone interview that it would take more than a 7.6 percent increase in average pay to achieve the top status because neighboring states have also been working to improve their teachers' pay. And in recent years, Baltzell said, they've been working harder than Kansas.
In Colorado, for example, while the 2016 average salary was relatively low, it was 3.9 percent higher than the year before.
Missouri's average salary was up 1.1 percent from the prior year, and Nebraska's was up 1.7 percent.
In Kansas, by contrast, average teacher pay in 2016 was up only 0.3 percent from the prior year.
Baltzell noted that the 2017 numbers are not yet available, and Kansas' ranking may have improved because of the nearly $200 million funding increase that lawmakers approved last year.