Editorial: Commitment to quality: Key step to better public schools is better teacher pay

Posted July 4, 2016
Updated July 7, 2016

Senate leaders tout teacher pay plan

-- No matter the list, North Carolina teacher pay is in the basement.
-- Teachers in a handful of North Carolina’s most wealthy counties are paid more than teachers in the rest of the state.
-- We know our schools don’t have the resources they need, why won’t we do something about it?

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A CBC editorial: Tuesday July 5, 2016; Editorial# 8026
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

There are a lot of ways to look at funding public schools and how much teachers are paid in North Carolina. Unfortunately many of those ways – and we’ve watched just how many can be employed by the General Assembly’s leadership – leave too many students short-changed and their teachers among the worst paid in the nation.

That’s right – when teacher pay is 41st in the nation, eighth among 11 Southeastern states and lower than any of our neighboring states – that’s the label that fits.

During the recent debate on the budget, State Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, crowed that within two years North Carolina will rank number 1 in the Southeast for teacher pay. How would that happen? Well, only if North Carolina continues promised pay increases while the other states don’t increase their teachers’ salaries at all over the next two years. Not a likely scenario.

What might be a wiser path is to focus on the North Carolina teachers who are being left behind because of where they teach.

The average pay that legislators talk about in their school funding debate is a fantasy to teachers in most of North Carolina. It includes local supplements, bonuses and other benefits that teachers in a few larger, urban school systems receive. Also, there tends to be more teachers with more experience – thus greater pay – in the larger and wealthier school districts, the Public School Forum of North Carolina has found.

Drill down to the individual school district, and the disparity of teacher pay in our state is stark. The North Carolina Department of Commerce, for economic development purposes, divides North Carolina counties into three categories. Tier 1 counties, there are 40 of them, are labeled “most distressed.” Teacher pay in those counties average nearly 4 percent less than the statewide average and 5.6 percent less than the pay in the 20 Tier 3 least distressed, counties.

How 2015-16 salaries compare (Source: N.C. DPI)

Tier 1 Counties Statewide Tier 3 Counties
Base Pay (avg.) $44,304 $43,601 $44,209
Supplement (avg.) $1,292 $3,870 (+200%) $4,060 (+314%)
Total (avg.) $45,714 $47,471 (+3.8% $48,268 (+5.6%)

Isolate out the 10 most distressed counties and the 10 least distressed – the disparity is starker. Average pay among teachers in the bottom 10 is 5 percent less than the state average and close to 9 percent less than pay in the top 10 counties.

How the 10 most distressed counties compare with the 10 most well-off counties (Source: :N.C. DPI)

Base Pay (avg.) $43,736 $43,601 $44,217
Sypplement (avg.) $1,417 $3,870 (+173%) $4,799 (+239%)
Total (avg.) $45,153 $47,471 (+5.1%) $49,017 (+8.6%)

In the extreme, the average teacher pay in Weldon City School District is $42,779 (there’s no local supplement) while the average pay in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro School District is $51,830 (which includes an average $6,315 supplement).

While there is much debate at how to provide education – methods, traditional schools, charters, vouchers for private schools, and more, one thing remains clear and vividly defined by North Carolina’s Supreme Court in 1997: all children in North Carolina have a fundamental state constitutional right to the "opportunity to receive a sound basic education." Improving teacher pay, particularly in hard-to-recruit areas of the state or in some subject areas, has been a focus of Superior Court Judge Howard Manning’s efforts to implement the landmark Leandro state Supreme Court decision.

The low pay of our teachers, the wide variation in pay from county to county, urban and rural, the continued assault on basic public school classroom resources, are all evidence that our state is not living up to the rights we declare. Worse, it appears that we’re actually cutting back and denying them on the basis of economic station and geographic location.

Rather than seizing on opportunities to manipulate the data to give a rosier glow on the figures, let’s agree that we are not living up to our obligation to children and teachers. We do not devote the resources, emblematic in how North Carolina pays its public school teachers, to provide every child in the state the opportunity for a sound basic education.

Given that recognition, there can be a true and sincere discussion – and action – to move toward better teacher pay throughout North Carolina, not just in a few, wealthy, school districts. A commitment to pay all teachers salaries commensurate to the demands for quality is the easiest way to rise from the basement of national rankings.


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  • Katie Miller Jul 5, 2016
    user avatar

    Cost of living might be higher in CH. but so is quality of life. It is hard to find teachers who want to graduate college and move to Weldon and teach. I would be willing to make less but be near chapel hill and Raleigh than make a few extra dollars and reside in Weldon.

  • Craig Elliott Jul 5, 2016
    user avatar

    Without showing how the local cost of living affects the pay supplements the data is misleading. Weldon pays less than Chapel Hill, but the COL in Chapel Hill is higher.

  • Shandy Scott Jul 5, 2016
    user avatar

    Since McCrory took office teachers pay has moved from 47th to 41st. The medium family income for North Carolina ranks us 39th. Teachers pay compared to other pay in the state is about right where it should be. According to the NEA's web site, North Carolina teachers have the lowest cumulative raises in the country from 2003-2012. Democrats had control the Governor's seat all of those ten years and the general assembly for the first eight years. In 2008, 2009, 2010, Democrats controlled everything and granted no raises. In 2011, we had a Democrat for Governor and a Republican controlled general assembly and no raises. In 2012, the same control and teachers received a raise. They have received a raise every year McCrory has been Governor. The turnover rate for teachers in NC is 14.2%. In Wake County it is 11.5%. According to the NEA the national turnover rate is 17%. If you breakdown the reason for leaving, .05% left for personal reasons which include many things including pay.

  • Marty Baker Jul 5, 2016
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    To liberals, a "cut" is defined as not getting as large an increase as you wanted. This is basic liberalism 101. The education budget is increased almost every year. Only in government would this possibly be considered a cut. Do you people think we don't pay attention?

  • Katie Miller Jul 5, 2016
    user avatar

    The issue is not teacher pay! The teachers deserve a raise. The issue is the RIDICULOUS administrator salaries. That is what is eating the budget. A teacher gets paid on a state scale and possibly a local supplement of a few thousand dollars. Administrators are paid on a state scale, but then the school board can "up" their salary substantially. There are elementary principals making almost $100,000! Do you really think the principal has that much to do with student learning? Law makers should make laws about how much an administrator can make...that would allow for plenty of extra money for teachers and teacher assistants.

  • Marty Martin Jul 5, 2016
    user avatar

    Education funding is the FIRST to be CUT in many GOP states - while the legislatures and governors give HUGE tax cuts to billionaires and corporations.

  • Marty Baker Jul 5, 2016
    user avatar

    It really doesn't matter how much of a raise teachers get, or how much money is poured into public schools, they always say it's never enough. They seem to think we should just have an endless amount of money for them. And they want people to think that more money always equals better results, which is ridiculous. Here's an idea....streamline operations and make the best use of the budget you have every year, just like every taxpayer in NC has to do. This has been an editorial of a citizen of NC that can't raise taxes on someone every year to support his wants, and I think I speak for millions more.

  • Matt Nickeson Jul 5, 2016
    user avatar

    Seriously; Am I the only one who sees a problem with the parent company of WRAL publishing opinion pieces on WRAL? Shouldn't there be some type of firewall between these two? It's like WRAL just said one day "who cares about journalistic integrity, let's just do what we actually want to do."

  • Katie Miller Jul 5, 2016
    user avatar

    Many countries do not require that all students go to school. Students are put on a certain path after elementary grades. Teachers in other countries, especially in college preparatory classes earn much higher wages.

    If it was just teaching the best students, it would be one thing; however, our teachers are working with all students.

  • Demute Sainte Jul 5, 2016
    user avatar

    Just keep throwing more and more money at the problem and it will go away. LOL.

    The United States spends THE MOST per student in the world... yet our children score lower on standardized tests.

    Our teacher pay is also on par with what teachers earn in other countries.

    Perhaps there is a better, more efficient way to educate our children. REAL competition for students and funding would be a good start. This would end poor performing schools and teachers... because no one would pay a monthly fee to a failing school. As it is now.... tax dollars just keep flowing.