PHOENIX (KSAZ) - With all the talk about teacher pay in recent weeks, both around the country and in Arizona, there is one number people keep hearing, that Arizona is ranked dead last in the nation, when it comes to teacher pay.
However, is that really the case? The Arizona Tax Research Association recently took a deep dive into the numbers.
"I say that's a flawed statistic that isn't helpful to the discussion," said Sean McCarthy, Senior Research Analyst for the Arizona Tax Research Association. "It's unfair to say we're last in the nation."
The non-partisan group has been studying tax policy in Arizona since 1940. ATRA crunched the numbers, and came up with a national ranking that they claim is more realistic, when it comes to teacher pay.
"We rank 40th in the nation, when adjusted for cost of living," said McCarthy.
How did ATRA arrive at that number? They took the average teacher pay, state by state, compiled by the National Education Association. According to the figures, the average teacher pay in Arizona is $47,218 a year.
After that, ATRA applied the widely accepted cost of living index to determine real teacher pay. It came to $49,391 a year.
"No, were certainly not last," said McCarthy. "It's not great. Ranked 40 in the nation."
During the past two decades, Arizona's ranking in teacher pay has dropped.
"Back in 2000, we were 34 in the nation," said McCarthy.
McCarthy says the bigger problem is that teacher's paychecks have been squeezed over the last 20 years.
"Where the real frustration is in the take home pay," said McCarthy. "The dollars they're seeing in their actual paycheck, 11% of their paycheck doesn't go to them. It goes to paying their pension. That's 11.5% off the top. Their portion of what they pay for health care has also gone up, and young teachers have student loans they repay."
So, even when the state gives them a raise, they're treading water.
"So when you look at their walking around money. the actual money they have to live on, you're talking about, for new teachers, less than $2,000 a month."
McCarthy says his group is only interested in providing the most reliable numbers, so the state can address the issue of teacher pay.
"It is fair to say that teacher pay has struggled, relative to other states, and it is something that policy makers should ask why," said McCarthy.
A bit of good news came out of this, however. McCarthy says giving every teacher a $3,000 raise would move Arizona from 40th to 28th in the nation in teacher pay. He says that's very doable without breaking the state budget.