Utah is a bad state for teachers? Think again

Schoolchildren and their teacher reading in primary class

If you’re used to hearing bad news about public education in Utah — teachers are underpaid and in short supply, classrooms are too crowded, politicians don’t care, etc. — here’s a switch. Wallet Hub just released a study that ranks Utah ninth in the nation on a list of the best states for teachers.

Low teacher pay is not unique to Utah. The study ranked the five states with the highest salaries and the five with the lowest (adjusted for cost of living). Utah didn’t make either list. Michigan has the highest paid teachers and Hawaii has the lowest.

Utah, not surprisingly, made the list of the highest student-teacher ratios, coming in 50th, just below California (the study measured the 50 states plus the District of Columbia).

Also, Utah was on the list of the lowest public school spending per student, but, contrary to some other per pupil expenditure lists, it did not finish last. Both Arizona and Indiana were found to spend less.

Utah seemed to score well on job opportunities and “academic & work environment.” But the Wallet Hub website provides little information as far as a breakdown of how each state did in each category.

The study is bound to be controversial. It may provide some context for the upcoming 2017 legislative session.

But the overriding lesson may be that Utah’s problems are not unique. The Deseret News recently reported that 42 percent of all new teachers in the state quit within the first five years. However, the National Education Association reports that 20 percent of teachers nationwide quit within the first year alone. Retention is a problem everywhere, and it probably isn’t as simple as just providing more pay.

Utah teachers are not as uniquely bad off as some would suggest. However, the teaching profession nationwide is not in great shape. Salaries are low everywhere, and lawmakers tend to demand more and better results without providing any real direction.

As Wallet Hub said, “… regardless of the issues plaguing the profession, many educators will continue to follow their passion and serve the purpose larger than themselves.”

That’s true, but each state needs to find a way to elevate the profession, even if that requires some radical outside-the-box solutions that anger the usual stakeholders.

Categories: Utah issues

About the Author

Jay Evensen

Jay Evensen is the Senior Editorial Columnist for the Deseret News. He has 32 years of journalism experience covering politics and a variety of other assignments at news organizations ranging from United Press International in New York City to the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Deseret News, where he has worked since 1986. During that time, he has won numerous local, regional and national awards. Most recently, he was given the Cameron Duncan Media Award, given annually in Washington, D.C., by the advocacy group RESULTS, to the journalist judged to have done the most to further the cause of the world's poorest people.

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