Greater Kingsport-Bristol area ranked fourth best in nation for teachers

Rick Wagner • Sep 23, 2018 at 11:45 AM

Area teachers have it pretty good, according to a recent study.

The national study says that if you are a teacher in Sullivan County, Kingsport City Schools, Hawkins County, Rogersville City School, Scott County, Washington County, Va., or Bristol, Va., you are in the fourth best place in the United States to be a teacher. 

The Kingsport-Bristol, Tenn.-Va., Combined Statistical Area of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia is ranked the fourth best place in the United States to be a teacher in 2018 by SmartAsset. The ranking moved the area from 17th in 2017 to fourth this year. A key factor was that the area had the most affordable housing in the study.

“Kingsport-Bristol-Bristol, which straddles the Tennessee-Virginia border, takes the fourth spot,” SmartAsset says in its announcement of this year’s rankings. “This metro area has the most affordable housing in our study. That should help stretch salaries for teachers here, which on their face do not seem too impressive.

“The average teacher makes just under $50,200 per year. But housing costs here, which run less than $600 per month on average, eat up only 14.2 percent of the average teacher’s salary, a rate comparable to metros where teachers are paid much more,” SmartAsset says. ”And while the pay is not stellar today, there are signs it’s on the rise. From 2015 to 2017 average pay for teachers increased by 8 percent.”


Ross Urken, senior editor at SmartAsset said the numbers are good news for existing teachers in the area and could be an impetus to attract new or relocating teachers to the greater Kingsport-Bristol CSA.

“Teachers are making a good living in this part of the country in the Kingsport-Bristol area,” Urken said in a phone interview. “They’re getting a lot of bang for their buck.”

CNBC reported in 2017 that, based on a study from the Learning Policy Institute, the 15 areas where teacher pay goes the furthest included No. 1 Riverside, Calif., with the closest one to the Tri-Cities being Richmond, Va., at No. 4. However, it included only pay versus cost-of-living figures.

Asked why this area moved from 17th to fourth in one year, Urken cited two more metrics:

— Employment growth in education in this area jumped 10 percent from 2015 to 2017, up from 0 percent in the 2014-to-2016 period.

—  The percentage of students proficient in math and reading grew from 66 percent in the 2017 study to 73 percent in the 2018 study. 

“Teachers are clearly delivering to the students and getting a reward,” Urken said.

Combined with other factors, Kingsport-Bristol grew from 77.96 to 87.56 on a scale of 0 to 100. He said such data can help teachers make a decision about making a good living with a low housing cost and high employment prospects, allowing them to accumulate more savings, retirement funding and investments.


“It (the study) does overlook some of the basic inequalities,” Sullivan Central High School physics teacher and Sullivan County Education Association President Jeremy McLaughlin said of the study, although he is quick to add he loves living in the area (Washington County, Va.) and teaching here. “They hit it. It’s a good place to be a teacher.”

He said that over eight years, the administration of Gov. Bill Haslam has pumped $1.5 billion into Basic Education Program funding meant for teacher pay. However, he said the Office of Education Research and Accountability with the Office of the Comptroller is looking into why only about half that amount has ended up in teacher paychecks, leaving Tennessee ranked 39th in teacher pay in the United States, behind Georgia.

“That money the legislature is trying to send to teachers isn’t getting there,” McLaughlin said, although he said Sullivan County’s Board of Education and Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski have done a good job getting the money to teacher’s pay by putting it in the salary scheduled instead of giving one-time bonuses or using it for other things.


SmartAsset looked at data for 139 metro areas and compared them across nine metrics:

• Average income. This is the average income for teachers. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is for 2017.

• Income growth. This is the percent change in average incomes for teachers from 2015-2017. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

• Employment growth. This is the percent change in the number of people employed as teachers from 2015-2017. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

• Spending per student. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2016 primary-secondary public education finance report.

• State teachers’ union strength. Data comes from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

• Housing costs. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2016 one-year American Community Survey.

• High school graduation rate. Data comes from the U.S. Department of Education and is for the 2015-2016 school year.

• Percent proficient in math and reading. Data comes from the U.S. Department of Education and is for the 2015-2016 school year.

• Violent crime rate. This is the number of violent crimes per 100,000 residents. Data comes from the FBI Universal Crime Reporting database and is from 2016.

“To create our final score we ranked each metro in each metric. Then we found each metro area’s average ranking giving equal weighting to all metrics. We used this average ranking to create our final score. The metro area with the best average ranking received a 100. The city with the worst average ranking received a 0.” Kingsport-Bristol got an 87.56 for 2018.

In the top five, Pittsburgh got 100, Brownsville, Harlingen, Texas was 93.95, Omaha-Council Bluffs, Neb.-Iowa got 88.57 and Akron, Ohio, was 86.72. In 2017, Kingsport-Bristol ranked 17th with a score of 77.96.

Urken said individuals must decide which factors are most important to them but that such study information can be valuable. “Knowledge is power,” Urken said.

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