West Virginia teachers are striking over some of the country's lowest wages—here's what other states pay

Elementary School teacher, Ben Johnson.
The Washington Post | Getty Images
Elementary School teacher, Ben Johnson.

Today, all 680 of West Virginia's public schools were closed because of a state-wide teacher strike. Teachers are protesting for higher wages and better benefits.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), teachers in West Virginia are among the lowest paid in the country. Recent figures from the BLS estimate that the average annual income for a high school teacher in West Virginia is $45,240. In other parts of the country, teachers can make close to six figures.

In fact, the amount teachers earn can vary greatly by state. The BLS reports that the lowest-paid 10 percent of high school teachers earn less than $38,180 and the highest 10 percent earn more than $92,920.

Pay disparity is one reason why Shawn Sheehan, Oklahoma's 2016 Teacher of the Year, decided to move to Texas, where teachers are paid significantly more. Last year he told NPR, "It feels good because I know I'm doing the right thing for my family, but it also feels sad."

At the time Sheehan and his wife Kaysi, also a public school teacher, brought in $3,600 a month. "After all bills are paid, we're sitting on about $400-450 per month," he explains.

When the Sheehan family had their first child, they had to reassess their finances. "Sure, life can be done on $400, $450 a month, but I would challenge others out there to buy diapers, groceries and all the things that you need for a family of three on $400," he says.

The average salary for a high school teacher in Oklahoma is $42,460. In Texas, the average salary is $55,500. Both of the Sheehans were offered positions that included $40,000 raises.

According to the BLS, Oklahoma pays its teachers less than any other state. Here are the five highest and lowest-paying states for high school teachers:

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The five lowest-paying states for high school teachers:

1. Oklahoma

Annual mean wage: $42,460

2. Mississippi

Annual mean wage: $43,950

3. South Dakota

Annual mean wage: $44,210

4. North Carolina

Annual mean wage: $45,220

5. West Virginia

Annual mean wage: $45,240

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As states compete to best educate their students, they also are vying for the best teachers. Hawaii, a state where the average salary for a high school teacher is $58,480, is facing a teacher shortage. The state is having difficulty filling 1,600 open teacher positions.

Barbara Krieg, assistant superintendent for the Office of Human Resources, told the AP, "Teachers are in such demand everywhere. Every school district is trying to steal from the other's district."

The five highest-paying states for high school teachers:

1. Alaska

Annual mean wage: $82,020

2. New York

Annual mean wage: $81,410

3. Connecticut

Annual mean wage: $76,260

4. New Jersey

Annual mean wage: $75,250

5. California

Annual mean wage: $74,940

This is an update of a story that appeared previously.

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