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This column was originally featured in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Wednesday, Oct. 17. This version includes the charts and footnotes.

A widely cited study issued last month by WalletHub erroneously stated that Hawaii public school teachers make a starting salary of only $24,409 when adjusted for cost of living, supposedly lowest in the nation.

In reality, Hawaii teachers make starting salaries that are $35,140 when adjusted for the cost of living, which is above the national average.

In response to a request for information from the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, WalletHub said it assumed a cost-of-living index for Hawaii of 188.3. It attributed that number to a report by the Council for Community and Economic Research,[1] which catalogues cost-of-living indices of urban areas nationally.

This means that the WalletHub study adjusted statewide public school teacher salaries based on metropolitan areas, which is an apples-and-oranges comparison.

A more accurate way to calculate the cost of living is to use a statewide cost-of-living index. For example, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) pegged the cost of living index for all of Hawaii at 130.8.

Another problem is that the WalletHub study placed a heavy weight on housing costs of “professional and executive households in the top income quintile.”[2] It compared the cost in metropolitan areas of 4-bedroom, 2-bathroom homes on 8,000-square-foot lots,[3] which in Honolulu average $1.04 million,[4] but in Atlanta, Ga., for example, average only $290,041.[5]

Adjusting statewide teacher salaries for Hawaii’s high cost of living using only metro Honolulu prices is a methodological error, since the numbers imply a goal of attempting to bring teacher salaries in line with the prospect of buying a $1 million home, which is out of reach for most people in the state.

According to the National Education Association (NEA), and adjusting for the cost of living using the BEA index, the starting salary for Hawaii public school teachers in fiscal 2017 was $35,140, which was higher than the national average at $34,853.

Calculating teacher pay in fiscal 2017 without adjusting for the cost of living, licensed Hawaii public school teachers who worked 10 months a year had a starting salary of $45,963, the third-highest in the nation, behind only New Jersey at $51,179 and Alaska at $46,785, according to the NEA.

The average unadjusted salary for all Hawaii public school teachers in fiscal 2017 was $57,674, almost $10,000 more than the average private sector salary in the islands of $48,055[6] and higher than most other Hawaii state government workers, who averaged $37,561 in fiscal 2017.[7]

This year, in fiscal 2019, the unadjusted starting salary for licensed 10-month public school teachers in Hawaii rose to $48,428, according to their union contract,[8] and to $49,100 for teachers who worked an extra 21 hours. Ten-month teachers comprise the majority of teachers who work during the year; some of then can earn an extra stipend outside of the union contract if they teach during the summer

Licensed 12-month teachers in Hawaii this year have salaries that start at $58,113, or $58,781 with the extra 21 hours.[9] Twelve-month teachers are positions such as resource teachers or registrars who work at the school year-round.

In either case, Hawaii’s public school teachers clearly are better off than the WalletHub study suggests. This isn’t to say that good teachers should not receive more pay, but anyone endorsing higher pay for Hawaii’s public school teachers should at least use accurate statistics — especially if they are urging voters on Nov 6 to approve higher property taxes as the way to make that happen.

Hawaii Teacher Starting Pay
Rank States Teacher starting pay
1 New Jersey $51,179
2 Alaska $46,785
3 Hawaii $45,963
4 Connecticut $45,280
5 Wyoming $45,207
6 New York $44,935
7 California $44,782
8 Massachusetts $44,726
9 Maryland $44,675
10 Pennsylvania $44,144
11 Rhode Island $41,481
12 Delaware $41,415
13 Texas $40,725
14 Washington $40,426
15 Louisiana $40,128
16 Virginia $39,398
17 Illinois $38,820
United States $38,617
18 Vermont $38,483
19 Alabama $38,477
20 North Dakota $38,032
21 Nevada $37,973
22 Minnesota $37,644
23 North Carolina $37,514
24 South Dakota $37,419
25 Florida $37,405
26 Wisconsin $36,983
27 New Hampshire $36,845
28 Kentucky $36,494
29 Tennessee $36,402
30 Michigan $36,234
31 Iowa $35,766
32 Utah $35,722
33 Oregon $35,534
34 Ohio $35,249
35 Indiana $35,241
36 Kansas $34,883
37 Georgia $34,872
38 Mississippi $34,780
39 New Mexico $34,544
40 Arizona $34,068
41 Arkansas $33,973
42 Maine $33,876
43 Nebraska $33,854
44 Idaho $33,743
45 West Virginia $33,684
46 South Carolina $33,057
47 Colorado $32,980
48 Oklahoma $31,919
49 Missouri $31,842
50 Montana $30,036
Source: National Education Association

 

Teacher starting pay adjusted for cost of living
Rank States Teacher starting pay, adjusted
1 Wyoming $42,289
2 New Jersey $40,943
3 Pennsylvania $40,611
4 Alabama $40,248
5 Louisiana $40,208
6 Alaska $40,193
7 South Dakota $38,339
8 Texas $38,025
9 Rhode Island $37,710
10 Connecticut $37,702
11 Kentucky $37,662
12 North Dakota $37,618
13 Massachusetts $37,553
14 Delaware $37,412
15 North Carolina $37,365
16 Maryland $36,952
17 Tennessee $36,548
18 Mississippi $36,457
19 Wisconsin $36,081
20 Iowa $35,910
21 Ohio $35,749
22 Illinois $35,517
23 California $35,429
24 Arkansas $35,389
25 Indiana $35,312
26 Nevada $35,291
27 New York $35,188
28 Michigan $35,179
29 Hawaii $35,140
30 Minnesota $34,953
31 Kansas $34,883
32 Virginia $34,865
United States $34,853
33 West Virginia $34,834
34 Washington $34,671
35 Vermont $34,268
36 Georgia $34,255
37 Nebraska $34,196
38 Florida $33,943
39 New Mexico $33,408
40 Utah $33,230
41 South Carolina $33,123
42 Idaho $32,824
43 Oklahoma $32,471
44 Oregon $32,245
45 Missouri $32,229
46 Arizona $32,140
47 New Hampshire $31,518
48 Maine $31,165
49 Colorado $29,006
50 Montana $28,881
Source: National Education Association

 

[1] http://kedc.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/2017-Annual-Average-Index.pdf, page 8.

[2] Ibid, page 3.

[3] Ibid, page 5.

[4] Ibid, page 25.

[5] Ibid, page 25.

[6] Grassroot Institute calculations using Bureau of Economic Analysis data for FY 2017, available at http://www.grassrootinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Wage-data-by-state-FY-2017-2.pdf.

[7] Grassroot Institute calculations, available at http://www.grassrootinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Wage-data-by-state-FY-2017-2.pdf.

[8] http://www.grassrootinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/HSTA-CBA-FINAL-2021.pdf, page 84.

[9] Ibid, page 85.