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Editorial: Time that legislative leaders ended teacher pay deception

March 12, 2019
Teachers used their creativity in communicating a message during a rally for education funding in Raleigh.

CBC Editorial: Tuesday, March 12, 2019; Editorial #8398 The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

When legislators brag about North Carolina’s average public school teacher pay, the number they use is misleading. It paints a far rosier picture and doesn’t provide an accurate view of the true effort the state makes in paying its classroom personnel.

Trouble is the $53,975 figure they quote misses the mark. It is cobbled together with money most teachers DO NOT RECEIVE, to fit into the National Educator’s Association’s effort to look at how teachers are paid nationwide.

SOURCE: N.C. Department of Public Instruction

It is a blurred picture of what the real STATE GOVERNMENT average pay is for North Carolina teachers. It does not answer that critical concern. This is about what the state is doing to support public education.

What’s the problem with legislative leadership’s “average pay” number?

It is inflated by at least $4,600 – 8.5 percent. It includes non-state funding such as an “average” local supplement. The reality is that most school districts – 90 percent of the 115 in the state -- pay teachers local supplements far less than that. Only 12 of the state’s school districts pay supplements equal to, or higher than, the average local bump.

A more accurate and appropriate figure would be the average state-funded teacher pay-- $49,371. That’s the average for what ALL teachers receive no matter the school district in the state. Ten years ago that average was $44,860.

Over the last decade, the average local supplement to teacher pay rose over 31 percent, while the state portion of teacher pay increased just 10 percent. When General Assembly leaders tout increases in teacher pay, they’re mostly just taking credit for the efforts of some county governments and local school boards. Miserly state budgets forced leaders in several counties to assume the responsibility of boosting pay for teachers – a responsibility shirked by the legislators.

Legislative increases in teacher pay haven’t even kept up with inflation over the last decade. If average teacher pay simply matched the rate of inflation – it would be $51,334 -- nearly $2,000 more than today’s average.

A year ago, tens of thousands of teachers took to the streets in Raleigh to demand better funding for schools – more to help their students learn than simply boost their own pay. Adjusted for inflation, per-student public education funding remains 5.4 percent BELOW pre-recession levels.

Significantly, it would be hard to find legislators who could explain how the rate of teacher pay is arrived at or why it is appropriate. When comparing what North Carolina’s teachers are paid to those in similar professions with similar education requirements, why would they want to?

North Carolina’s teachers are paid just 64.5 percent of what other similarly qualified full-time workers with at least a bachelor’s degree in the state receive – even worse than the 76.2 percent ratio nationwide.

North Carolina’s teacher pay ranks 49th – only Arizona is worse – in wage competitiveness.

Recently, the leader of a well-connected education lobby organization said: “Perpetuating the narrative that we haven’t made progress (in improving teacher pay) is potentially damaging to students.”

The damage is looking for ways to avoid the truth. We have NOT made progress in teacher pay. We have low expectations and, tragically, we fail to even meet those.

North Carolina shouldn’t aspire to bring teacher pay to best in merely the southeast. It should aim to be among the national leaders.

North Carolina General Assembly’s failure to adequately fund a “quality” public education – as it is constitutionally required to do and as the state courts’ have ordered – is no “narrative.” It is, as the facts and figures above show, a legacy of neglect.

There’s a simple way to arrive at appropriate teacher pay. It is the same thing the private sector does for its hiring. It’s no secret.

Set salary levels that will keep and attract the best for North Carolina’s public school classrooms.

The failure by our state’s legislative leaders to do that and meet their obligation is what is really “damaging to students.”