Special Education Teacher Salary and Job Outlook

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Special education teachers serve preschool through high school students with mild to severe learning, mental, physical, and emotional disabilities. They teach group and individual sessions, create individualized education plans, and assess student learning and educational needs.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an 8% job growth rate for preschool special education teachers between 2019 and 2029.

Although their career is demanding, special education teachers can make a big difference in their students’ lives, helping them prepare for future success. Special education teachers need a bachelor’s degree and a state license or certification.

The job outlook for special education professionals is especially strong for preschool teachers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an 8% job growth rate for preschool special education teachers between 2019 and 2029. The special education profession should see 14,300 new special education jobs in that time frame.

What Is the Job Description of a Special Education Teacher?

Special education teachers support development and growth for learners with an array of mental, physical, learning, and emotional disabilities. Special education jobs vary depending on the work environment, students’ ages and disabilities, and teachers’ areas of specialization.

Special education teachers usually work in public schools with students from preschool through high school. These professionals typically teach lessons, assess students’ skills and needs, and plan learning activities that work for each individual. Special education teachers work with general teachers, parents, administrators, and specialists to create individualized education programs (IEPs) for their learners.

Some teachers work in classrooms with both special and general education students. Others work in specialized classrooms that focus exclusively on individuals with disabilities.

Read More About Special Education Teachers A Day in the Life of a Special Education Teacher

How Much Can You Earn as a Special Education Teacher?

How much does a special education teacher make? The BLS reported a median annual special education teacher salary of $61,420 in 2020. Salaries for special education teachers vary by location, employer, industry, and level of education and experience.

The BLS reported a median annual special education teacher salary of $61,420 in 2020.

Special education teachers earn more as they gain professional experience and earn higher degrees. PayScale reports that a graduate with a BS in special education earns $55,000 on average, compared to $71,000 for a special education Ph.D.-holder. Some states and metro areas offer much higher salaries than others. Special education jobs in states like Oregon, New York, Connecticut, and California pay top dollar.

Special Education Teachers

Median Annual Salary, 2020


$61,420


Source: BLS

Salary of Special Education Teacher by Experience

The average special education teacher salary varies by years of experience. The table below provides salary information by experience level for special education teachers in preschool, kindergarten, and elementary schools. Note that salaries may vary for middle and secondary school special education teachers.

Special education teachers with less classroom experience make lower salaries, but they can earn more over time. Entry-level and early career special education teachers garner average salaries around $40,000. Those with five to nine years of experience make $50,000. Special education teachers with 20 years or more of experience earn $62,000 annually.

Annual Salaries by Experience for Special Education Teachers, July 2021

Years of Experience Average Annual Salary
Entry-Level (<1 year) $42,000
Early Career (1-4 years) $44,000
Mid Career (5-9 years) $50,000
Late Career (10-19 years) $55,000
Experienced (20+ years) $62,000
Source: PayScale

Salary of Special Education Teacher by Education

The job outlook and average salary for special education teachers vary by level of education. Special education teachers who earn higher degrees make better average wages.

According to PayScale, a graduate with a BS in special education makes $54,000 on average, while completing an MS can increase earnings to $58,000 annually. Completing a doctor of education in special education increases average earnings to $71,000 a year.

Weigh the benefits and costs of pursuing a graduate degree to determine if the return on investment is worth it. Earning a master’s in special education or a Ph.D. may open the door to other special education jobs besides teaching.

The table below lists average salaries by education level in special education. This data does not represent only special education teachers but all respondents who hold that degree.

Average Salaries by Education, August 2021

Education Level Average Hourly Wage Average Annual Wage
BS in special education $18.23 $54,000
MS in special education $23.10 $58,000
Doctor of education in special education $26.50 $71,000
Source: PayScale

Discover which education path is right for you:

Bachelor's Degrees in Special Education Master's Degrees in Special Education

Salary of Special Education Teacher by Location

The job outlook for special education teachers also varies by location. The average salary for a special education teacher depends on their state, city, or metropolitan area. Salary can also differ from one school district to another, even in the same geographic area.

Top-paying states for special education teachers include Oregon, New York, and Connecticut. California and the District of Columbia also rank among the top states for special education teacher jobs. The average annual wage for teachers in these states is between $77,540 and $79,070, much higher than the median annual salary of $61,420 for all special education teachers.

Four out of the top five top-paying metro areas for special education teachers are in California. Pay for special education teachers in some metro areas drastically exceeds the median annual salary. For example, the Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura metro area pays special education teachers an average annual salary of $100,570.

Candidates should also research the cost of living in states or metro areas with above-average salaries. Salaries may vary for preschool, middle, and secondary school special education jobs.

Top-Paying States for Special Education Teachers, May 2020

State Number of Special Education Teachers Employed Average Annual Wage
Oregon 1,720 $79,070
New York 21,850 $78,710
Connecticut 2,680 $78,090
California 14,130 $78,070
District of Columbia 880 $77,540
Source: BLS

Top-Paying Metropolitan Areas for Special Education Teachers, May 2020

Metropolitan Area Number of Special Education Teachers Employed Average Annual Wage
Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA 350 $100,570
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 870 $97,360
Merced, CA 70 $96,560
Fresno, CA 810 $93,740
Kingston, NY 230 $85,610
Source: BLS

Special Education Job Outlook and Career Prospects

The special education job outlook appears strong. The BLS projects average employment growth for special education teachers between 2019 and 2029. The field should add 14,300 new special education teaching jobs in that time frame. New school enrollments, demand for special education services, and earlier detection of disabilities will drive this growth.

The BLS projects an 8% growth (much faster than average) between 2019 and 2029 for preschool special education teachers, amounting to only 1,900 new jobs due to the field’s small size.

Public school teachers may face salary cuts and layoffs because of state and federal budgetary restrictions. However, these layoffs rarely affect special education teachers, since states are required to maintain annual funding for special education. Because they need special certification beyond a general teaching license, special education teachers may find employment more easily than general teachers.

Special Education Teachers

Change in Projected Employment


(2019-29) +3%


Source: BLS

Best Locations for Special Education Teachers

Students all over the U.S., including in rural and urban areas, need special education teachers. However, some states, metro areas, and cities offer more special education jobs and higher average salaries than others

Densely populated urban areas tend to employ the largest numbers of special education teachers and pay the highest salaries. Likewise, the special education job trajectory looks bright in many of these large metropolitan areas.

Top States for Special Education Teachers

Consider average salary, demand, cost of living, and quality of life when choosing where to work as a special education teacher.

States with the most special education teachers include New York, Texas, California, Illinois, and New Jersey. These states also have the greatest projected increase in employment for special education teachers between 2018 and 2028. For this reason, special education teachers may find new positions more easily in these states than in those with fewer openings.

California and New York offer high salaries (over $78,000) for special education teachers, but the cost of living significantly exceeds the national average in both places. Likewise, Texas offers significantly lower salaries for special education teachers, but its cost of living also falls below the national average.

The tables below include data on the top-employing states and states with the greatest projected increase in employment for special education teachers in kindergarten and elementary school. Top states may vary for preschool, middle, and secondary school teachers.

Top-Employing States for Special Education Teachers, May 2020

Top-Employing States Number of Special Education Teachers Employed Average Annual Wage
New York 21,850 $78,710
Texas 15,600 $57,480
California 14,130 $78,070
Illinois 11,740 $67,920
New Jersey 11,420 $73,010
Source: BLS

States With the Greatest Projected Increase in Employment for Special Education Teachers, 2018-28

State Percent Projected Change, 2018-28 Average Annual Openings
Greatest Projected Percentage Increase
Utah 15% 150
Georgia 14.9% 490
Colorado 14.8% 340
District of Columbia 14.8% 60
Maryland 14.1% 350
Most Projected Average Annual Openings
New York 8.4% 1,650
California 4% 1,410
Texas 9.8% 1,170
New Jersey 2.7% 1,020
Illinois -1.4% 670
Source: Projections Central

Top Cities for Special Education Teachers

Some cities and metropolitan regions may appeal more than others to special education teachers. Factors drawing teachers to certain cities include strong demand for the profession, high salaries, cost of living, and quality of life.

Living in or near a top-employing metro area can make it easier for special education teachers to find a job. The table below presents data on the top-employing metro areas for special education teachers in kindergarten and elementary school.

Top-Employing Metropolitan Areas for Special Education Teachers, May 2020
Metropolitan Area Number of Special Education Teachers Employed Average Annual Wage
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA 23,930 $80,190
Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI 9,570 $69,990
Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD 4,750 $68,040
Boston-Cambridge-Nashua, MA-NH 4,280 $78,410
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA 4,080 $64,400
Source: BLS

Best Industries for Special Education Teachers

Some special education teachers may pursue opportunities outside of teaching. Top-paying industries for special education professionals include individual and family services, educational support services, and state government.

The tables below provide data about the top-paying and top-employing industries for special education teachers in kindergarten and elementary school. As demonstrated, these teachers earn an average annual salary of $84,510 in the individual and family services industry, compared to $64,890 in elementary and secondary schools.

Top-Paying Industries for Special Education Teachers, May 2020

Top-Paying Industries Employment Average Annual Wage
Individual and Family Services 660 $84,510
Educational Support Services 720 $80,670
State Government, excluding schools and hospitals (BLS Designation) 310 $74,050
Offices of Other Health Practitioners 240 $65,890
Elementary and Secondary Schools 186,300 $64,690
Source: BLS

Employment by Industry for Special Education Teachers, May 2020

Industries with Highest Employment Employment Annual Mean Wage
Elementary and Secondary Schools 186,300 $64,690
Local Government, excluding schools and hospitals (BLS Designation) 1,100 $57,770
Educational Support Services 720 $80,670
Individual and Family Services 660 $84,510
State Government, excluding schools and hospitals (BLS Designation) 310 $74,050
Source: BLS

Special Education Job Trajectory

Each person’s special education job trajectory differs depending on their experience, education, interests, and location. Most special education professionals start their careers as special education teachers.

As special education teachers gain experience and further their education, their salaries usually increase. These professionals may move into lead teacher roles or mentor less-experienced teachers on working with children with disabilities. Experienced special education teachers may spend more time developing programs or creating strategies than teaching in classrooms.

Special education professionals may find opportunities as school principals, instructional coordinators, or school counselors. These positions may require additional certification or advanced degrees. Some higher-level special education jobs entail research, evaluation, policy work, and consulting.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How much does a special education teacher make?

    The BLS reported a median annual salary of $61,420 for special education teachers as of 2020. Earnings vary by location, level of education and experience, and industry.

  • Is special education in demand?

    The BLS projects a 3% growth rate (about as fast as average) for special education teachers from 2019-2029. Federal law requires states to maintain funding for special education, reducing the threat of layoffs for special education teachers.

  • Where are special education teachers needed most?

    The special education job trajectory looks best for preschool teachers. The BLS projects employment of preschool special education teachers to grow 8% (much faster than average) between 2019 and 2029.

  • What can I do with a degree in special education besides teaching?

    Although most special education jobs involve teaching, other industries employing graduates with special education degrees include individual and family services, local and state government, and educational consulting.


Featured Images: zoranm / iStock / Getty Images Plus

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