PHOENIX — Arizona is making do with fewer teachers.
Data released annually by the Arizona Department of Education reveals that the number of full-time employees employed by the department was 47,152, the lowest number since at least 2004.
Education officials with Maricopa County’s Department of Education confirmed with ABC15 that while full-time employment statistics do include non-classroom employees, they are regularly used to analyze the number of teachers in the state.
According to the data, the number of educators increased consistently from 47,350 in 2004 to 54,696 in 2009. The next two years saw declines that brought the number of educators back to 48,821 in 2012, where it largely remained until the 3.8% drop between fiscal year 2021 and 2022.
Teachers that specialize in educating the youngest Arizona students took the biggest hit. The number of elementary school teachers dropped by 7.1%, Kindergarten teachers fell by 3.7%.
Joe Thomas is the president of the Arizona Education Association, the largest union representing teachers in Arizona. He says that the drop in educators is a crisis.
“We lose routinely 10% or more of our total classroom staff at the end of every year. Some of those are... teachers that have given everything and are retiring at the end of a long career. And some are first year teachers that didn't feel supported or didn't think the job was what they, you know, assumed it would be.” Thomas said.
Is the decline in teachers in the state about pay?
Teacher salaries in Arizona have been increasing. In 2017, the average teacher salary was $48,372. It increased to $54,814 by fiscal year 2020. A 13.3% increase in just three years. This is still under Arizona’s median household income of $62,055
This is still a low number, typically ranking the state 48 or 49 when compared with other states depending on the study. When adjusting for cost of living, Arizona does improve to around 39, but home values are a big weight on the cost of living and Arizona’s home values have risen tremendously in the past few years, which will make it more difficult to attract qualified teachers.