A report published last week by The Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/12/15/how-much-teachers-get-paid-state-by-state/) caught our attention. State by state data, collected from the National Center for Education Statistics by Jon Boeckenstedt, associate vice president at DePaul University in Chicago, confirmed what many already suspected: When it comes to paying its public educators, Oklahoma is Mr. Scrooge.
Our state ranks 48th in the nation in teacher pay, averaging an annual salary of $44,128, ahead only of Mississippi ($41,994) and South Dakota ($39,580) at the very bottom.
The data reported is for 2013 and represents the estimated average annual salary of teachers in public elementary and secondary schools.
Clearly, regional economic factors play a major role in pay scale. It’s not surprising, for instance, that New York, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, California and Alaska all pay among the highest average teacher salaries in the nation. These are expensive places to live where everything costs more.
But Oklahoma is not only ranked at the bottom nationally and far below the national average teacher salary of $56,383, it is also surprisingly low even compared to surrounding states that have similar economies and cost of living.
For instance, our neighbor to the east, Arkansas, pays on average nearly $2,500 more per year in salary. Same for New Mexico. Kansas pays nearly $3,500 more and Texas pays approximately $4,000 more per year.
Experienced teachers in Oklahoma can travel up the turnpike and earn an average salary of $47,517 in Missouri or head for the mountains of Colorado and earn a Rocky Mountain high of $49,844.
Is it any wonder Oklahoma is still falling victim to the proverbial brain drain? Many of our best and brightest young people, especially in the education field, know that they can do better for themselves and their families by getting a quality, affordable education at an Oklahoma public university then move somewhere else — almost anywhere else — to earn a better wage and retirement.
If Oklahoma is to be taken seriously in its desire to improve public education and upgrade the professionalism of its teachers, then its political leaderships must put its money where its mouth is. Otherwise, that "wind sweeping down the plains" is likely to be the sound of more cars full of Oklahoma grown teachers leaving the state for greater economic opportunity.