KY teacher salaries are worse today than 15 years ago Skip to content

KY teacher salaries are worse today than 15 years ago

3 min read

As I’ve noted before, we’re big believers in data at Forward Kentucky. If someone has a study that applies to Kentucky, and they’ve got data to back it up, we’re interested.

So, when the Rockefeller Institute of Government put out an interactive graphic showing teacher salaries in every state over time, we were intrigued. How did Kentucky fare in the report when it came to paying our teachers? And, how did their pay compare to what other persons with bachelor’s degrees were making?

KY teacher salaries vs bachelor degrees, 2002 – 2017

As you can see, the initial chart looks relatively good for our teachers. Their pay has increased quite a bit over the past 15 years (2002 to 2017).

Of course, someone getting a bachelor’s in education is going to make less money than someone getting a bachelor’s in another field – but hey, they’re not doing it for the money, right? </snark>

Interestingly, the Great Recession caused pay for other fields to back up, while teacher pay continued to rise, causing the two to almost become equal in 2012. But, in the continuing economic growth and low unemployment of the past few years, those other fields have taken off again, while teacher pay has not risen as fast.

But remember, I’m a stats geek

I noticed on the Rockefeller chart that it said “All values in current dollars.” I wasn’t sure if that meant they had adjusted for inflation or not, so I contacted them.

And no, the values shown were in the “dollars current that year.” In other words, no adjustment for inflation.

So, I took the numbers and made another graph for Kentucky, adjusting for inflation using the Inflation Calculator at WestEgg.

And look what I found when I did that.

KY teacher salaries 2002 – 2017, adjusted for inflation

When you convert all the values to 2017 dollars, here is the graph you get:

See that blue line at the bottom? That’s the mean teacher salary in Kentucky over the past fifteen years. And yes, you are reading it correctly:

In real dollars, Kentucky teachers are making
LESS now than they did 15 years ago.

And, for those of you who want the actual data, like me, here are the underlying numbers:

Other Notes and Closing Thoughts

Notes on the study itself

If you are into stats like I am, you already know the first objection I’m going to raise: they used mean (average) rather than median. Averages are really bad for comparison, since they can be skewed by outliers. (Put 10 people in a room, then add Warren Buffet, and watch the average income for the room be in the millions.)

Secondly, the report mushes together all teachers and all persons who hold a bachelor’s degree in a state. There’s not an attempt to identify outliers in this grouping either. So, the numbers are helpful on a very macro level, but less so if you’re doing policy work.

But one stark finding still remains.

No matter what sort of issues we might have with the statistics in the report, one thing seems clear: our teachers are losing ground when it comes to pay.

If the average pay for all teachers in the state is LOWER than it was 15 years ago, it demonstrates clearly what is true in Frankfort:

  • Either all this legislator talk about “valuing education” is just so much blowhard steam that evaporates when it comes time to back it up with the budget;
  • OR, there are forces at work that want to cut public education into oblivion;
  • OR, both.

Much has been made about the fact that for the most part, Kentucky teachers, unlike those in other states, did not march on Frankfort over low salaries.

Perhaps, in addition to all the other reasons to put the heat on our legislators around public education, it’s time they start raising hell about their pay.

'KY teachers paid less now than 15 years ago.' Much has been made about the fact that for the most part Kentucky teachers did not march on Frankfort over low salaries. Perhaps it's time they start raising hell about their pay.Click To Tweet


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Bruce Maples

Bruce Maples has been involved in politics and activism since 2004, when he became active in the Kerry Kentucky movement. (Read the rest of his bio on the Bruce Maples Bio page in the bottom nav bar.)

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