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Arizona’s teacher salaries rank among the lowest

PIf the ongoing political debates about education funding have not convinced you, a new study might: Arizona is the sixth worst place in the nation to be a teacher.

The report by WalletHub says the average starting salary for teachers, listed as $31,874 for 2012-13 school year by the National Education Association, is the 44th lowest of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia. And that ranking comes even after accounting for the lower cost of living here than many other places.

It’s also not great for those who stay in the profession, the study says, with median salaries for all Arizona teachers at No. 48, also measured against the cost of living.

The pupil-to-teacher ratio, listed at 21.3 according to the National Center for Education Statistics, is worse than anywhere but Utah and California. And it compared with a national average of 16.7.

And WalletHub cites NEA figures showing that Arizona spends only about $1,250 per state resident on education. Only Idaho comes in lower.

About the only thing in the WalletHub rankings that kept Arizona from being lower than 46th overall is that there’s probably good job security here.

The personal finance website figures that Arizona will have among the higher percentages of school-age population of all the states by 2030. More children equals more demand for teachers.

Jill Gonzalez, a WalletHub staffer, said there’s a reason these statistics matter.

Consider class size.

“If I have a child I know struggles with learning, then that’s definitely something I want to take into consideration,” she said. But Gonzalez said for some parents, class size won’t matter.

Teacher salaries present a different issue, particularly in Arizona’s ability to recruit.

“If this is a teacher right out of school looking for somewhere to teach, it might matter more to them than someone with a family and who can support themselves in other ways,” Gonzalez said.

One place Arizona is not in the bottom 10 is in what WalletHub calls teacher wage disparity. Gonzalez said this is the difference between salaries at the 90th percentile level — near the top — and those at the 10th percentile level. That measures whether there’s room for wage improvement.

Arizona is No. 38 nationwide.

The report comes as questions of school funding have taken center stage in courtrooms and the gubernatorial race.

Key is the ruling by the Arizona Supreme Court that during the recession state lawmakers ignored a 2000 voter-approved mandate to adjust aid to schools each year for inflation.

The exact amount missed is still being litigated. But Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper said just resetting basic state aid to what it should have been had legislators complied with the law all along totals $317 million.

If and when the state comes up with that cash, that will make another $279 per pupil available, on top of the approximately $7,550 a year per student from all sources.

That does not count an additional $1.3 billion that schools claim they are owed for the years the state ignored the inflation funding formula. While that would be a one-time infusion, it translates out to close to an additional $1,150 per student.

Both Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Fred DuVal and Republican Doug Ducey say they want to put more money in the classroom though they differ on how to do that.

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