What state has the lowest salary for teachers?

Quick Answer

The state with the lowest average teacher salary in the U.S. is Mississippi, where the average annual pay for a teacher is $46,862. This is well below the national average teacher salary of $61,730.

Detailed Answer

Teaching is a critically important profession that shapes the minds of future generations. However, teacher salaries in the U.S. vary widely between states. When examining average teacher pay across the 50 states and Washington D.C., a clear outlier emerges with the lowest salary – Mississippi.

According to the National Education Association’s (NEA) Rankings of the States 2019 report, the average public school teacher salary in Mississippi for the 2018-2019 school year was $46,862. This is over $14,000 less than the national average teacher salary of $61,730.

In fact, Mississippi’s average teacher salary is more than $16,000 below the average teacher salary in New York – the state with the highest pay at $63,645.

Looking at the NEA’s data on average teacher salaries by state provides useful insight into how much pay varies based on location in the U.S.

Average Teacher Salaries by State

Here is a breakdown of the five states with the lowest average teacher salaries:

State Average Salary
Mississippi $46,862
West Virginia $48,615
Oklahoma $52,083
North Carolina $54,150
Arkansas $54,871

And here are the five states with the highest average salaries:

State Average Salary
New York $63,645
California $60,263
Massachusetts $60,036
Connecticut $59,765
New Jersey $59,637

There is a gap of over $16,000 between the average pay in Mississippi compared to New York. Some states in between these extremes include Texas at $57,091, Florida at $56,150, and Illinois at $56,890. It’s evident that teacher salaries can look very different across the country.

So what factors contribute to Mississippi having the lowest average teacher pay in the nation? And how does the salary impact education in the state?

Key Factors Impacting Mississippi Teacher Pay

There are several key reasons why teacher salaries are lower in Mississippi than elsewhere in the United States:

Cost of living – While Mississippi has a very low cost of living compared to most of the country, this also depresses wages and salaries across occupations. The median home price is around $156,000 in Mississippi versus $374,000 nationally. Overall cost of living is over 15% lower than the average U.S. state.

State budget and funding – Education funding in Mississippi is very low compared to other states. In 2019, Mississippi spent $9,396 per public school student – almost $3,000 less than the national average of $12,612. With lower overall education budgets, salaries including teacher pay suffer.

State policies – Mississippi does not place a high priority on education spending in its state budget. The state has also faced criticism for policies viewed as unfriendly to teachers such as limiting collective bargaining. This impacts the ability to negotiate higher salaries.

Fewer certifications – Mississippi sets a lower bar for teacher certifications with fewer requirements than many other states. This means the teacher workforce may be less credentialed than elsewhere, weighing down average pay.

High poverty – Mississippi has one of the highest poverty rates in the country at 19.7% versus 11.4% nationally. This high degree of poverty depresses economic activity, incomes, and revenue available to fund education and other public services.

These factors combine to create an environment in Mississippi that is disadvantageous for teacher pay compared to other U.S. states. The low salaries are unfortunately consistent with Mississippi’s low educational outcomes on metrics like test scores and graduation rates.

Impact on Education in Mississippi

The bottom-tier teacher salaries in Mississippi appear to be impacting education outcomes in the state, including:

Teacher shortages – Low pay makes it difficult to recruit and retain teachers, leading to chronic understaffing in subjects like math, science, and special education.

High turnover – Turnover rates for teachers are significantly higher than average, meaning students lose continuity and schools must repeatedly find replacements.

Lack of credentials – Relatively lax requirements for teachers combined with low pay fails to incentivize advanced certifications, degrees, and qualifications.

Poor student outcomes – On measures like test scores, graduation rates, and college readiness, Mississippi students lag behind their peers in most other states.

Widening achievement gaps – Teacher shortages and turnover disproportionately impact high-poverty districts, widening socioeconomic achievement gaps.

Raising teacher salaries to competitive levels would likely improve Mississippi’s ability to attract, retain, and develop top teaching talent for the benefit of students. But ultimately education budgets and funding priorities must be addressed to make meaningful positive change for teachers and schools.


In examining average teacher salaries across the United States, Mississippi clearly stands out with the lowest pay at $46,862 annually. This is over $14,000 below the national average teacher salary.

Key factors contributing to Mississippi’s low teacher pay include cost of living, insufficient state education budgets, policies viewed as unfriendly to teacher interests, lower credential requirements, and high statewide poverty.

The bottom-tier salaries appear to be negatively impacting teacher shortages, turnover, credentials, student outcomes, and achievement gaps. Boosting teacher pay could help improve these education issues that are critical to Mississippi’s future. But greater investment in education and prioritizing funding are needed to make significant positive change.

While teacher salaries do not tell the full story of educational effectiveness, they offer an important data point for understanding why student and school performance varies so much across states. The connection between fair compensation for teachers and outcomes for students is clear.

If Mississippi and other states hope to compete with education leaders like Massachusetts and New Jersey, examining how salary factors into the equation will be key. At the very least, reaching compensation parity with the national average could be a reasonable starting goal.

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