Best and Worst States for Teachers

A Credit Karma Study

Jennifer Brozic and Andrew DePietro – May 31, 2022

Are you preparing to graduate and apply for your first teaching position? Or maybe you have a few years of teaching experience under your belt and are considering a move.

Before applying for your next job, keep in mind that some states may be better than others when it comes to fostering a healthy classroom environment and finances. 

Credit Karma created a methodology and scoring system to identify the best and worst states for teachers, based on three criteria — cost of living, annual average teachers’ salary and student-to-teacher ratio. (Click here for the full methodology.)

Here’s a quick snapshot of the best states for teachers, beginning with our top pick.

  1. New York
  2. Massachusetts
  3. Connecticut
  4. New Jersey
  5. Rhode Island

And a look at the worst states for teachers, starting with the lowest ranking state.

  1. Arizona
  2. Idaho
  3. Hawaii
  4. Louisiana
  5. Utah

Keep reading to learn more about how we chose the best and worst states for teachers, plus additional factors to consider when deciding where to teach that go beyond the numbers we evaluated to make our picks.

Overall ranking of best and worst states for teachers in 2022

In our study, the lower the score, the better the state is for teachers. See the table below to check out our overall ranking of all 50 states, plus find out how each state fared in terms of cost of living, student-to-teacher-ratio and annual teacher wages.

Rank State Overall score Overall cost of living rank Student/teacher ratio rank Average annual wage rank
1 New York 3.80 49 5 1
2 Massachusetts 4.20 47 8 3
3 Connecticut 4.33 43 5 5
4 New Jersey 4.77 40 3 7
5 Rhode Island 5.62 42 12 8
6 Virginia 5.70 30 27 11
7 Washington 5.78 38 45 4
8 Illinois 6.12 20 22 13
9 Pennsylvania 6.19 32 15 12
10 Georgia 6.40 5 28 14
11 Maryland 6.42 44 24 10
12 Nebraska 6.50 19 14 18
13 California 6.98 48 49 2
14 Ohio 7.00 13 33 15
15 Wyoming 7.13 20 8 23
16 Kansas 7.14 2 13 28
17 Vermont 7.20 41 1 24
18 New Hampshire 7.26 37 2 21
19 Minnesota 7.54 26 34 17
20 Delaware 7.58 36 20 19
21 North Dakota 7.62 24 7 31
22 Texas 7.69 15 29 27
23 Alaska 7.75 45 40 9
24 Oregon 7.79 46 47 6
25 Michigan 7.95 13 41 20
26 Wisconsin 8.20 23 19 30
27 New Mexico 8.20 12 30 32
28 Iowa 8.20 8 21 34
29 Maine 8.37 39 4 33
30 Missouri 8.43 7 11 44
31 Colorado 8.53 34 37 25
32 Florida 8.60 27 39 22
33 Arkansas 8.64 11 10 43
34 Montana 8.80 28 16 37
35 Kentucky 8.84 17 36 36
36 Oklahoma 8.85 3 35 35
37 Tennessee 8.87 6 32 38
38 South Carolina 8.93 18 23 39
39 West Virginia 9.11 9 16 46
40 Indiana 9.41 10 38 40
41 Nevada 9.64 35 46 29
42 North Carolina 9.76 22 31 47
43 Alabama 9.93 3 42 42
44 Mississippi 9.94 1 24 50
45 South Dakota 10.15 29 18 49
46 Utah 10.41 25 48 26
47 Louisiana 10.58 16 44 45
48 Hawaii 11.33 50 24 16
49 Idaho 11.46 31 43 48
50 Arizona 12.26 33 50 41

Interestingly, the top-ranked states in our study are clustered in the Northeast where the cost of living is high. But small class sizes and relatively generous teacher compensation help offset living expenses to make New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and Rhode Island our five best states for teachers.

Unlike the best states for teachers, the worst weren’t concentrated in a specific geographic area.

Arizona came in last with low marks across the board. And even though the cost of living in Idaho and Louisiana isn’t too high, they landed in the bottom five due to high student-to-teacher ratios and low teacher salaries.

Hawaii, on the other hand, has a mediocre student-teacher ratio and ranks highest for cost of living.

California, despite its high cost of living and higher-than-average student-to-teacher ratio, ranked No. 13 as the best state for teachers due in large part for its high average wages for teachers of all types.

In 2021, the average annual wage for teachers (non-special education) in California was $83,859, and the average annual wage for special education teachers was $89,827. Both of these average annual wages are better than the median household income in California ($78,672), according to Census Bureau 2020 American Community Survey data.

Mississippi ranks in the bottom 10 with mediocre student-to-teacher ratios and low teacher wages, even though it has the lowest cost of living in the U.S.

5 best states for teachers in 2022

Credit Karma used data from the sources listed at the end of the article to determine our rankings for the best and worst states for teachers based on cost of living, student-to-teacher ratio and annual teacher wages.

Rank State Overall score
1 New York 3.80
2 Massachusetts 4.20
3 Connecticut 4.33
4 New Jersey 4.77
5 Rhode Island 5.62

New York

New York topped our list of best states for teachers, despite its high cost of living. Housing is more expensive here than anywhere else in the country except Hawaii and the District of Columbia. But New York also has the highest paid teachers in the country, averaging $84,011 per year, and one of the lowest student-to-teacher ratios.

Massachusetts

Coming in a close second is Massachusetts, which is among the 10 most expensive states in the U.S. Offsetting that high cost of living, the state pays its teachers an average annual salary of $78,933 — the third highest in the country. Special education teachers earn an average salary of $82,463, which is fourth highest in the U.S.

Massachusetts also has a low student-to-teacher ratio.

Connecticut

The northeast is known for being an expensive place to live and Connecticut is no exception. It’s the eighth most expensive state in the country, but teachers receive generous salaries, averaging $76,186 per year and special education teachers earn $82,547 per year. Plus, they enjoy low teacher-to-student ratios.

New Jersey

The student-to-teacher ratio in New Jersey is the third best in the country, at 12.1 students per teacher. When combined with average wages that are among the top 10 in the United States, New Jersey ranks as one of the best states for teachers, even though the cost of living is high.

Rhode Island

Rounding out our list of best states for teachers is Rhode Island, where student-to-teacher ratios are slightly higher than the rest of the states in the top five. But the cost of living is a bit lower than in other our other top-ranking states, and teacher compensation is the eighth best in the country, averaging $69,873 per year. Looking at special education teacher wages, Rhode Island ranks seventh, with an average annual salary of $76,207.

5 worst states for teachers in 2022

Rank State Overall score
50 Arizona 12.26
49 Idaho 11.46
48 Hawaii 11.33
47 Louisiana 10.58
46 Utah 10.41

Arizona

Topping our list of the worst states for teachers is Arizona. The state ranks last in student-to-teacher ratios, has low teacher salaries that average $50,334 per year and a relatively high cost of living, compared to other states.

Idaho

Idaho’s cost of living falls smack in the middle of our rankings. However, its low annual salaries, averaging $46,565 for all teachers and $48,430 for special education teachers, and high student-to-teacher ratios are a double whammy for people looking to teach in the state.

Hawaii

Next up on our list is Hawaii, which is by far the most expensive state in the country. While student-to-teacher ratios are about average and annual teacher salaries are better than average at $60,393, it’s not enough to make up for the state’s steep living expenses.

Louisiana

Compared to many other states in the country, Louisiana’s cost of living is relatively modest. But because its annual teacher wages and student-to-teacher ratio are among the worst in the U.S, it comes in as the fourth worst state for teachers.    

Utah

Utah’s cost of living is about average, but the student-to-teacher ratio is the third worst in the country. When you factor in teacher salaries in the middle of the pack compared to other states, it may not be the best choice for teachers.

Highest-paying states for teachers in 2022

Credit Karma used data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics May 2021 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates to find the states with the highest and lowest annual teacher wages.      

Unsurprisingly, most of the highest-paying states correspond with our top-ranking states overall. Conversely, most of the lowest-paying states aren’t in our list of the top 5 worst states for teachers, but they are toward the bottom of the overall rankings. However, there were a few surprises.

Notably, Alaska was among the top 10 highest-paying states for all teachers, but ranked 23rd out of 50 overall.

Additionally, Oregon made our list of the top five highest-paying states for kindergarten teachers, and top 10 for elementary-, middle- and high school teachers, even though it’s only the 24th best state for teachers overall.

Check out the tables below for the states with the five highest and lowest teacher salaries by grade level, based on 2021 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Best-paying states for preschool teachers

Highest annual average wages for preschool teachers Lowest annual average wages for preschool teachers
New Jersey – $44,810 Alabama – $25,180
New York – $43,880 Mississippi – $26,860
Massachusetts – $43,710 Idaho – $27,460
California – $42,210 Delaware – $29,150
Nebraska – $42,190 North Carolina – $29,530

Best-paying states for kindergarten teachers

Highest annual average wages for kindergarten teachers Lowest annual average wages for kindergarten teachers
California – $85,760 Louisiana – $44,360
Massachusetts – $85,470 Idaho – $44,550
New York – $84,530 Montana – $46,020
Connecticut – $80,410 South Dakota – $46,520
Oregon – $77,920 Mississippi – $46,610

Best-paying states for elementary teachers

Highest annual average wages for elementary teachers Lowest annual average wages for elementary teachers
New York – $87,700 Mississippi – $45,760
California – $86,470 South Dakota – $47,670
Massachusetts – $83,790 West Virginia – $50,130
Washington – $83,010 Arkansas – $50,250
Connecticut – $82,140 North Carolina – $50,530

Best-paying states for middle school teachers

Highest annual average wages for middle school teachers Lowest annual average wages for middle school teachers
New York – $94,690 Mississippi – $46,880
California – $92,350 South Dakota – $48,230
Massachusetts – $85,740 West Virginia – $50,190
Washington – $83,460 Idaho – $50,280
Connecticut – $82,790 Arizona- $50,580

Best-paying states for high school teachers

Highest annual average wages for high school teachers Lowest annual average wages for high school teachers
California – $94,600 Mississippi – $48,030
New York – $92,660 South Dakota – $48,620
Massachusetts – $85,360 Missouri – $48,900
Washington – $85,260 North Carolina – $52,280
Connecticut – $79,530 West Virginia – $53,540

Best-paying states for special education teachers

Highest annual average wages for special education teachers Lowest annual average wages for special education teachers
California – $89,827 Missouri – $47,447
New York – $89,543 Mississippi – $47,613
Connecticut – $82,547 Idaho – $48,430
Massachusetts – $82,463 South Dakota – $49,347
Washington – $82,007 West Virginia – $50,797

Best and worst states for teachers by cost of living in 2022

Credit Karma used 2021 data from the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center to create its overall cost-of-living rankings for each state.

Here are the states with the highest and lowest overall cost of living.

Lowest overall cost of living Highest overall cost of living
Mississippi Hawaii
Kansas New York
Alabama California
Oklahoma Massachusetts
Georgia Oregon

Tips for choosing where to teach

While you need to earn enough to live where you teach, money isn’t the only factor to consider when choosing which state. The states with the highest annual salaries may not be the best fit for you. Evaluating all factors that will affect your quality of life will help you make the best decision about where you want to work.

For example, you might want your kids to grow up surrounded by extended family — even if that means you make less money than you could somewhere else. Or perhaps you’ve always dreamed of living near the Big Apple, and you’re willing to pay sky-high rent or live with multiple roommates to make that happen.

Before deciding where you’ll teach, here are some things to think about.

When evaluating your choices, be honest with yourself about the things that are most important to you and weigh those factors carefully. That will help you avoid a decision you might later regret.

Methodology

To identify the best and worst states for teachers, we analyzed data from all 50 U.S. states. Then we scored and ranked them using a weighted scoring system based on the following criteria.

  1. Overall cost of living in the state, based on data from the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center for Annual Average of 2021
  2. Annual mean wage for all Educational Instruction and Library Occupations, sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ May 2021 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates
  3. Annual mean wage for Preschool Teachers, sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ May 2021 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates
  4. Annual mean wage for Kindergarten Teachers, sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ May 2021 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates
  5. Annual mean wage for Elementary School Teachers, sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ May 2021 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates
  6. Annual mean wage for Middle School Teachers, sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ May 2021 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates
  7. Annual mean wage for High School Teachers, sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ May 2021 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates
  8. Annual mean wage for Special Education Teachers, Kindergarten and Elementary School, sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ May 2021 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates
  9. Annual mean wage for Special Education Teachers, Middle School, sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ May 2021 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates
  10. Annual mean wage for Special Education Teachers, High School, sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ May 2021 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates
  11. Student-to-teacher ratio, fall 2019, sourced from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Sources