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Which states are the best for new teachers? Georgia near bottom of the pack

Being a teacher in America can often feel like a thankless job, despite its status as an honorable profession. And depending on where in the country you’re based, starting salaries and work perks greatly vary.

» RELATED: Who has the highest salaries in Georgia schools and colleges

According to a new report from small-business tool Business.org based on average starting K-12 teacher salaries from the National Education Association and how those salaries compare with the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ average salaries for “all occupations” within each state (plus the District of Columbia), Louisiana is the best state to launch an education career. 

Business.org analysts note, however, that while Louisiana’s teacher salary isn’t the highest in the country, the state’s cost of living is relatively low, making its average teacher salary of $40,303 just 5.5% lower than the state’s average annual salary for all occupations, $42,660.

The site focused on entry-level salaries “because we figured tenured teaching positions might skew the average teaching salary to be a little high,” analysts wrote. They also did not take into account how salaries might vary for teachers with master’s degrees versus bachelor’s degrees and if there was a tie between states, researchers considered a state’s cost of living.

» RELATED: Why those $3,000 Georgia teacher raises aren’t a simple calculation

Overall, new teachers are paid 21.8% less than other workers in their states, but the gap is highest in Colorado, where entry-level educators are paid 40% less than the average salary. 

“If a teacher moved from Denver, Colorado, to New Orleans, Louisiana,” analysts suggest, “they’d instantly improve their standard of living by approximately 50% (after you factor in the cost of living in Colorado and Louisiana).”

After Louisiana, Wyoming and South Dakota rounded out the best three states for new teachers, followed by Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Hawaii. Colorado; Washington, D.C. and Missouri ranked at the very bottom of the list.

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Georgia came in at No. 38.

According to the report, the average starting teacher salary in the Peach State is $35,474. That’s 26.5% less than the state’s average worker salary, $48,280.

“Not only do teachers earn less money than their professional counterparts, teacher salaries in real dollars have been declining over time,” Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education vice president Dana Rickman wrote in an annual list of top 10 issues to watch in education. “Georgia needs to develop a quality teaching and leadership plan, coupled with a schedule of investments in teaching professionals, that include (1) a total compensation structure, (2) tiered certification/career ladders, and (3) meaningful professional development.”

» RELATED: Will Georgia ever regard teachers as professionals?

In March, AJC’s James Salzer reported that “during debates on teacher pay and retirement benefits at the state Capitol each year, one of the most repeated lines is that educators don’t get into the profession for the money. They get into it because they love what they do, they say.”

The point about low pay certainly rings true for the majority of the state’s K-12 teachers and college professors, but for educators at the top of the industry ladder — from school superintendents to university administrators and leading professors — it’s not uncommon to earn upward of $300,000 per year.

In fact, according to Salzer, Gwinnett County Schools superintendent Alvin Wilbanks makes nearly $570,000 annually, Augusta University president Brooks Allen Keel has a salary of $872,786 and Vinayak Kamath, professor and chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Augusta University, earns more than $949,000.

Read more about the highest paid Georgia educators at AJC.com.

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