Study shows KY teacher pay still low Skip to content

Study shows KY teacher pay still low

Even with some increases, salaries are far less than they were a decade ago due to inflation

4 min read
Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya / Unsplash

Via press release from KEA

Four new reports examining educator pay and school funding from pre-K through college reveal that despite modest gains in national educator pay last year, chronic problems remain regarding low wages and a lack of professional respect amongst educators.

  • Kentucky dropped from 40th to 41stnationally since last year with an average teacher salary of $56,296.
  • New Kentucky teachers saw their ranking drop from 44th last year to 45th, with the average starting teacher salary at $39,204.
  • Education Support Professionals (ESPs) across the commonwealth, which includes classified employees like bus drivers, janitorial, food service, paraeducators and administrative employees, bumped up the rankings one spot from 48th last year to 47th with average earnings of $27,053.
  • Of the seven surrounding states, only Kentucky ranks 40th or worse in each of the three categories.

The annual reports released by the National Education Association show that salaries continue to lag woefully behind inflation over the past decade, limiting the ability to attract and retain quality educators amid a looming educator shortage and sagging educator morale due chiefly to low pay and poor working conditions.

The data shows that a combination of elected leaders in some states stepping up and the tireless advocacy of educators and their unions has resulted in the most significant year-over-year teacher pay increase in over a decade. States such as Alabama, Arizona, California, New Mexico, Mississippi, and Washington, amongst others, demonstrated significant progress in teacher pay. Beyond that, states such as Montana and Rhode Island led the way in increasing pay amongst K-12 education support professionals. At the same time, California, Colorado, New Mexico, and North Carolina were a handful of states that led higher education faculty.

However, despite this progress, much work still needs to be done to close the teacher pay penalty, address inadequate pay for all educators, and finally make the investments necessary at the state and local levels to attract and retain quality educators in community public schools.

“It’s no secret that educators in Kentucky, both in the classroom and out, are not competitively compensated for educating our children, and KEA is deeply concerned about the general assembly’s lack of investment in Kentucky educators’ pay,” said KEAPresident Eddie Campbell. “It is a true shame that the legislature chose to squander this once-in-a-generation opportunity to raise educator pay and move SEEK funding to meet the needs of a 21st century education. It’s short-sighted to not directly and meaningfully address educator pay at levels that would make Kentucky the envy of our neighboring—and competitor—states. Instead, surrounding states are devoting more and more resources to recruit and retain quality educators. It is disappointing that our elected representatives didn’t take the same opportunity.

“Every school district across the commonwealth faces shortages of teachers, substitutes, bus drivers, custodians, and office staff nearly every day of the school year. The general assembly ignored the obvious educator shortage at a time when Kentucky is experiencing historic revenue and holding historic levels of “rainy day funds.” KEAcalls on every local school board in Kentucky to use the increased state resources available to them through SEEK to invest in our public school staff by meaningfully and permanently raising salaries and wages beginning next school year, or Kentucky will continue to fall behind.”

The data released today include Rankings and Estimates,” a report NEA has produced since the 1960s that is highly respected and widely cited as an authoritative source. The comprehensive report provides comparative state data and national averages for a wide array of public K-12 education statistics, including average teacher salaries and per-student expenditures. NEA’s Teacher Salary Benchmark Report” provides information from over 12,000 local school districts on starting teacher salaries and salaries at other points of the teaching career continuum. The Education Support Professional Earnings Report” offers a pay breakdown of school support staff, also known as education support professionals, working in K-12 public schools and higher education. NEA’s Higher Education Faculty Salary Analysis” examines full-time faculty and graduate assistant salaries at the national, state, and institutional levels.

  • The national average public school teacher salary in 2022–2023 increased 4.1% from the previous year to $69,544 and is projected to grow a further 3.1% in 2023–2024. However, even with record-level increases in some states, average teacher pay has failed to keep up with inflation over the past decade. Adjusted for inflation, on average, teachers are making 5.3% less than they did 10 years ago.
  • The national average beginning teacher salary was $44,530. At 3.9%, the increase in the average starting salary was the largest in the 14 years that NEA has been tracking teacher salary benchmarks. However, when adjusted for inflation, the starting teacher salaries are now $4,273 below the 2008–2009 levels.  
  • Chronic low pay is plaguing the profession. A staggering 77% of U.S. school districts still pay a starting salary below $50,000 (teachers make less than $40,000 a year in 28.6% of school districts), while teacher salaries top out over $100,000 in only 16.6%.
  • Almost 38% of all full-time K-12 education support professionals earn less than $25,000 annually.
  • The average salary for full-time faculty on 9- or 10-month contracts was $97,762 in 2022–2023, a 4% increase over 2021–2022. Adjusting for inflation, faculty lost $1,611 of their purchasing power from the prior year, a cumulative loss since 2020–2021 of 7%.
  • For every dollar that a non-HBCU educator makes, Historically Black Colleges and Universities faculty were paid just 75 cents in 2023. 
  • The union advantage: Teachers earn 26% more, on average, in states with collective bargaining, and education support professionals earn 16% more. In addition, higher education faculty in unions make 16% more at comprehensive institutions and almost 28% more at community colleges than non-union faculty in the same states.
  • The starting salary of teachers in states with a bargaining law is $1,653 more than in states without a bargaining law. Top pay is $12,998 higher in states with bargaining laws. In states with bargaining laws covering education support staff, the average earnings are $38,167, compared to states where bargaining is prohibited, the average school support staff earns $32,308.

For additional information about Rankings and Estimates, please visit


Print Friendly and PDF

Forward Kentucky

The editorial board of Forward Kentucky. Articles under this author name have been written, edited, and approved by a number of the contributors on this site, as well as the publisher.

Twitter Facebook Website Louisville, KY