Illinois Teachers are Not Overpaid

A new study finds that public school teachers in Illinois are highly skilled and are compensated accordingly through competitive salaries.

A new report by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute and the Project for Middle Class Renewal at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign finds that Illinois’ public school teachers are not overpaid. In fact, the report concludes that Illinois’ public school teachers are among the best-educated in the nation and earn appropriate incomes that reward their skill.

Full Report: A Highly Educated Classroom: Illinois Teachers are Not Overpaid [PDF]

In part driven by the belief that public school teachers are not “underpaid,” some commentators have called for reforming the practice of allocating teach pay. Claims of excessive pay have been discredited by additional research, however.

In Illinois, as in other states, the dominant determinants of pay are based on salary schedules, which provide larger salaries to teachers with higher levels of formal education and for each additional year of teaching experience. This system rewards teachers with pay increments for acquiring and demonstrating specific knowledge and skills needed to meet educational goals.

Illinois public school teachers are compensated based on their skill levels. Illinois teachers are highly educated, with over 60 percent of full-time public elementary, middle, and secondary school teachers in the state having earned a master’s degree. An additional 36 percent of full-time public school teachers have a bachelor’s degree. These highly skilled educators help foster the next generation of workers and innovators who will grow Illinois’ economy.


Full-time public K-12 teachers in Illinois earn less than highly educated workers in Illinois private and nonprofit sector. The average full-time public school teachers in Illinois earns an annual salary of about $63,000.

  • Full-time private and nonprofit sector workers with a bachelor’s degree earn more than $76,000 per year, over $13,000 more than public school teachers in Illinois.
  • Full-time private and nonprofit sector workers with a master’s degree earn about $103,000 per year, approximately $40,000 more than public school teachers in Illinois.

Capture of teacher pay and private sector.PNG

A key difference between public school teachers and their private sector counterparts is that income is distributed much more equally among public school teachers. The top 1 percent of teachers earns about $126,000 per year (and only after many years of experience), while the top 1 percent of private sector workers earns $505,000 in Illinois.

Furthermore, there is a strong correlation of 0.63 between the share of teachers with at least a master’s degree and the average cost-of-living-adjusted income of teachers in states across America. Illinois has higher-paid public school educators principally because its teacher workforce ranks 12th in the nation by share of teachers with a master’s degree.


After controlling for demographic, educational, cost-of-living, and other characteristics, Illinois public elementary and middle school teachers are statistically found to be the 15th-highest paid in the nation and Illinois’ public high school teachers are the 5th-highest paid in the nation. However, public school teachers in Ohio, Michigan, and Iowa are all better compensated than their Illinois counterparts, after accounting for these factors.

Additionally, as of 2014, the average pay increase for a teacher in Illinois, after earning a master’s degree, is $14,062. This added compensation value of an advanced degree exceeds the current national average of $12,205 for comparable teachers. Illinois ranks 17th in the value of the masters’ bump.

A well-educated society tends to produce positive economic and social outcomes, such as high worker incomes, high productivity, high life expectancy, high civic and political engagement, and high life satisfaction. Research has also found that high quality and highly trained educators improve the individual prospects of the next generation by increasing intergenerational mobility.  Because teachers influence the  ability of children to thrive in the future, it is imperative that students are taught by the best educators in environments conducive to learning.

The data show that the salaries of Illinois’ public school educators reflect and reward their training, skills, and level of education. Illinois has valued educators that help grow the state’s economy by improving human capital across the state. Investing in the future of Illinois means investing in students, and investing in students means investing in high-quality public school teachers who are paid a competitive salary.

Ultimately, Illinois has a competitive teacher market with a skilled workforce that is compensated accordingly. Illinois teachers are not overpaid.

Read the full report here.

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