Kentucky Teacher Salary Comparison: Reviewing pay over time, across states, and across districts

by | May 21, 2019

The Kentucky Department of Education provides such a public service through its Kentucky Education Facts page, where you can learn that we have 9,822 school buses (thank you bus drivers), 5,639 parents serving on school councils (thank you parent leaders), and 811 Family Resource/Youth Service Centers (thank you to FRYSC staff).

You can also learn that 42,146 classroom teachers serve our students and communities. (Thank you, thank you, teachers!)

The Education Facts page lists an average salary of $52,328 for Kentucky teachers. Given an uptick in the national interest in raising teacher salaries, here are three graphs to fill in some context behind this number – trends over time, a comparison to other states, and comparisons across Kentucky districts.

Kentucky’s average teacher salary rose through 2009-10, then began to decline

The graph below uses the same data on teacher salaries that the Fordham Institute used for the analysis that inspired my previous post. The National Center for Education Statistics reported these data in 2017 constant dollars, using information that the National Education Association has long collected from state education agencies.

It illustrates that teacher salaries in Kentucky (darker blue) increased over the last part of the 20th century, rising above $55,000 in 2009-10. Since that time, however, average salaries have decreased in constant 2017 dollars. The decline since 2009-10 follows the same downward trend as the nation as a whole (lighter blue).

The average Kentucky teacher salary falls below than the national average, which is influenced by high-cost and high-population states

Here we have data that the National Education Association published last month in its annual Rankings of the States report. It shows that in 2017-18, Kentucky ranked 28th across states on average teacher salary, falling below the national average along with the majority of states. You can start to see, in the graph below, how the national average is pulled upward from the large numbers of teachers in several states with the highest salaries (e.g. California and New York).

Many have sought to disentangle to what extent these differences across states reflect variation in the cost of living versus the variation in prioritization of teacher salaries. In a story last year, NPR leaned on EdBuild to adjust the average state teacher salaries for cost-of-living differences.  According to this analysis, Kentucky fares comparatively well, with the sixth highest average salary after the adjustment.

The vast majority of Kentucky school districts have average teacher salaries lower than the state average

The Kentucky Department of Education publishes data on average classroom teacher salaries for each school district, from 1989 to this current school year, in an easy-to-use spreadsheet on its website. (Thank you, KDE!) The graph below shows each district’s average teacher salary for 2018-19. You may notice that the state average is well to the right of the graph: 159 of 173 districts fall below the state average. The story across districts is like the story above across states, but even more dramatic: the average is pulled upward by the large numbers of teachers in two districts (Fayette and Jefferson) that have higher average salaries. (Should you be wondering, Anchorage Independent has the highest average teacher salary at $67,488.)

My hope is that these data can help put some context to how teacher salaries have changed over time, how they vary across the nation, and how they vary within the Commonwealth. In my next post, I will explore how (and why) they vary (and do not vary) within districts – across schools and teachers with different characteristics.  


Since 1983, the Prichard Committee has worked to study priority issues, inform the public and policy makers about best practices and engage citizens, business leaders, families, students, and other stakeholders in a shared mission to move Kentucky to the top tier of all states for education excellence and equity for all children, from their earliest years through postsecondary education.

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