As teachers strike across the country, teacher pay in Colorado remains among the worst in the nation

Written by: Sarah Hughes
Date Posted: April 13, 2018

It started in late February when West Virginia teachers went on strike for nine days to advocate for improved pay and benefits. Teachers in Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona have since joined the chorus of educators calling for changes to school funding. As teachers across the country advocate for fairer pay and adequate education funding for their students, how does Colorado compare?

There are several ways to assess the fairness of teacher salaries and compare compensation across states. Colorado ranks near the bottom on nearly every measure.

A chart showing Colorado teachers are paid on average similar to South Dakota, Mississippi, Oklahoma and West Virginia

Comparing average salary vs. cost of living and peer professionals

When comparing average annual teacher salary for the 2016-2017 school year, Colorado ranks fifth from the bottom—only slightly better than West Virginia and Oklahoma, two states in which teachers have recently organized for better pay. Comparing average salary can be misleading, however, since the cost of living varies dramatically from state to state. States where teacher salaries are lower than in Colorado (South Dakota, Mississippi, Oklahoma and West Virginia) have a lower cost of living, on average—meaning a Colorado teacher’s salary doesn’t stretch as far as salaries in those states.

Another way of gauging the competitiveness of teachers’ salaries involves comparing teacher compensation to the salaries of other professionals in the same labor market and of similar age, degree level and hours worked. Using this measure of wage competitiveness, Colorado ranks dead last in the nation, according to a report from the Education Law Center. On average, a 25-year-old Colorado teacher makes only 69 cents for every dollar earned by a similar professional in another occupation. Wyoming, in contrast, ranked best on this indicator.

Colorado teacher salaries and inflation

And because teacher salaries have not kept pace with inflation, Colorado teachers have essentially taken a significant pay cut during the past several years. Between the 1999-2000 and 2016-2017 school years, teacher salaries in Colorado fell by 15 percent after adjusting for inflation—a larger decline than any of the states in which teachers have protested and the second-largest decline in the nation, after Indiana. In comparison, teacher salaries in the U.S. fell by 1.6 percent during the same time period.

A chart showing the change in average annual teacher salary. Colorado is second worst to Indiana and well below the national average.

Research has consistently shown that high-quality, dedicated educators are the most important in-school factor for student success. Studies have also shown that higher pay for teachers is linked to lower teacher turnover. And we know students benefit when experienced, effective teachers are able to remain in the classroom. If we want to attract the best and brightest educators to provide the skills and knowledge Colorado’s students need to succeed, we must work toward an improved school funding system and competitive salaries for our state’s teachers.

Sarah Hughes

About Sarah Hughes

Sarah Hughes is Vice President of Research Initiatives for the Colorado Children’s Campaign. In this role, she leads the organization’s research and data analysis efforts, including the development and publication of the annual KIDS COUNT in Colorado! report, and provides research and data support to inform and advance the Children’s Campaign’s policy agenda. Prior to joining the Children’s Campaign, Sarah worked in communications and spent several years working and volunteering with kids in various capacities. She holds a Master of Social Work with a specialization in Advocacy, Leadership and Social Change from the University of Illinois and a B.S. in Business and Political Science from Washington University in St. Louis.