Compensation study finds cost of living, salary compression top issues for Hawaii’s teachers


Results from an independent teacher compensation study commissioned by HIDOE show Hawaii’s cost of living and compression of salaries for experienced educators as the top challenges to recruiting and retaining public school teachers.

​View the study & informational materials here: 

Hawaii Teacher Compensation Study

Teacher Salary Modernization Project

The results from an independent teacher compensation study commissioned by the Hawai‘i State Department of Education (HIDOE) show Hawaii’s cost of living and compression of salaries for experienced educators as the top challenges to recruiting and retaining public school teachers. The study was done by Augenblick, Palaich and Associates (APA), which also conducted a salary study in 2014 for HIDOE and the Hawaii State Teachers Association.

“The study confirms our working assumptions around the main root causes of our vacancies, and further justifies the need to take bold action,” said Superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto. “Our Department cannot solve the cost of living issue alone, but we can and will advocate for our teachers to be compensated at a professional level that enables them to live and thrive in Hawaii. As long as teachers are being paid below the poverty level, Hawaii will continue to see escalation in the teacher shortage crisis."

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, individuals earning less than $67,500 per year, in the urban Honolulu area, qualify as low income. The starting salary for teachers who completed a state approved teacher education program (SATEP) with 0-5 years of experience is $49,100, and it could take them over 10 years to earn more than the $67,000. 

The study’s findings were based on stakeholder feedback that was collected through listening sessions attended by approximately 350 individuals, mostly teachers, as well as an online survey that received more than 2,000 responses. It also compared HIDOE with three sets of comparable districts:

  • Comparison Group 1: Districts with over 165,000 students and between 10,000 and 14,000 teachers. The districts in this group are Palm Beach, Fla.; Fairfax County, Va.; Gwinnett County, Ga.; Houston; Orange County, Fla.; and Wake County, N.C. 

  • Comparison Group 2: APA used the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index (CPI) to find districts with a similarly high cost of living. The districts in this group are San Diego; Oakland, Calif.; San Francisco; Boston; Jersey City, N.J.; New York City; Newark, N.J.; Seattle; Tacoma, Wash.; Long Beach, Calif.; and Los Angeles. 

  • Comparison Group 3: This group includes districts that have similar cost of living and attractiveness based on its Comparable Wage Index (CWI), determined by the National Center for Education Statistics. CWI measures the ease in which industries can recruit for a specific location based on factors including the price of housing, crime rates and climate. The districts in this group are San Diego, Calif.; Palm Beach, Fla.; Broward County, Fla.; Miami-Dade, Fla.; Aurora, Colo.; Denver, Colo.; and Jefferson County, Colo.

The key findings from the study include:

  • Teachers face a very high cost of living in Hawaii, which makes continuing in the teaching profession less sustainable.

Cost of living was the most frequent concern shared during listening sessions and in an online survey. According to the study, teachers are faced with unsustainable financial situations, with many of them taking on additional jobs. This takes away time they would be able to spend on their teaching career. 

  • Once adjusted for cost of living, teacher salaries in Hawaii are not competitive with comparison group averages.

The study compared Hawaii with three groups of school districts: ones similar in size, facing the same high cost of living, and highly attractive. Once adjusted for cost of living, Hawaii’s average salaries fall behind all three groups. Hawaii’s salary ranges from just under $8,000 to over $26,000 below the comparison group average. 

  • Hawaii’s compensation system has a limited number of pay steps and there has been compression within these steps.

The salaries of experienced teachers in Hawaii are not far off from their less-experienced colleagues. This is due to a lack of steps that are not tied to years of experience, but rather are negotiated with the HSTA. As an example, a year 12 teacher who completed a SATEP and who has similar qualifications to a year 21 teacher has the same salary. 

  • Regardless of steps taken by the state, Hawaii is likely to continue to have relatively higher levels of turnover. 

The study noted that the impact of the high cost of living is something felt by all residents in Hawaii, not just teachers. It also noted that some turnover is unavoidable with teachers leaving Hawaii for reasons other than compensation, such as spouses of military personnel and those who do not intend on making Hawaii their permanent residence. 

View the salary study here

Efforts to address the issue of teacher compensation are already underway through a multiphased initiative launched by the Department late last year

  • Phase 1: On Jan. 7, a pay differential was implemented to increase compensation for classroom teachers in the areas with the most severe shortages — special education, Hawaiian language immersion programs and hard-to-staff geographic locations. 

The effective date was scheduled around a crucial period when teachers have the option to transfer to a new position or school known as the Teacher Assignment and Transfer Program (TATP). This will allow the Department to evaluate the effectiveness of the first phase as early as spring 2020. 

  • Phase 2: The Department is currently seeking legislative support to fund an Experimental Modernization Project (EMP) addressing equity and compression in teacher salaries. 

The current distribution of teachers on each step of the salary schedule is inconsistent and compressed, contributing to senior teachers leaving the profession; a point of concern raised in both the 2014 and 2019 salary studies. 

“I believe the study results show that we are on the right track with our latest efforts,” said Cynthia Covell, assistant superintendent of the Office of Talent Management. “We also know it is not just about compensation. The Department continues to enhance our support for educators through initiatives that include mentoring for beginning teachers, housing partnerships, and scholarships from teacher certification programs. The teacher shortage is a complex issue facing districts nationwide, and it will take innovation and perseverance to resolve this crisis.” 

For more information about HIDOE’s teacher salary modernization initiative, click here.

Contact Information

Communications Branch

Phone: 808-784-6200



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