Raleigh, N.C. — A new poll commissioned by WRAL News shows a majority of respondents believe North Carolina's K-12 public schools are inadequately funded and that teacher salaries should be increased by up to 10 percent.
Those responses are in line with what North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson has asked lawmakers for in recent months. She went to the legislature in January to request a 10 percent raise for teachers. She has predicted that lawmakers will give teachers the largest salary increase in a decade because it is an election year.
Legislators have raised teacher pay in each of the past two years, focusing on early-career educators, but Atkinson says much more is needed.
"If we don’t invest now, we are going to pay later," Atkinson said Wednesday when reached by phone. "I just want the General Assembly to find a way."
North Carolina ranked 47th in the country for average salaries for public school teachers, according to recent estimates by the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union. A first-year teacher with a bachelor's degree and no special certifications makes $35,000, while 20-year veterans make $46,500 a year, state records show.
Education poll results
SurveyUSA, which conducted the poll for WRAL News, questioned 2,000 adults statewide between Friday and Monday, 1,800 of whom are registered voters. The questions ranged from politics and the election to education. The two education questions had an overall margin of sampling error of 2.1 to 2.2 percentage points.
Robert Pickard, 85, of Raleigh, was one of the respondents who said schools and teachers need more money. He supports a salary increase up to 10 percent.
"I have a very definite bias toward education. If I had to choose between education and health care, I would be really hard pressed to say what is more important for the community and for the nation," said Pickard, a Democrat.
"In general, teachers have been sort of shortchanged in terms of the importance of the role that they play in our society. I think they need more recognition, both financially and otherwise," he added.
Pickard said he doubts lawmakers will grant teachers a 10 percent pay raise. "I think it would be tough. It would be a real fight."
Mary Harris, 67, of Cary, said she also supports a 10 percent raise for teachers and more funding for schools.
"Some of those children give the teachers a hard time," said Harris, a Democrat. "If they’re a good teacher, they deserve a raise. ... I hope they get it."
Lawmakers respond to poll
WRAL News contacted six lawmakers who lead the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee to get their thoughts about the poll. Two of them responded.
Rep. Linda Johnson, R-Cabarrus, who co-chairs the committee, said in an email to WRAL News that a 10 percent raise "sounds good and would be a well-deserved boost to our teachers, but what about teaching assistants, bus drivers, counselors and cafeteria workers."
All state employees need to be rewarded, Johnson said, adding that she believes raises will come during the upcoming legislative short session, "but not at unrealistic rates."
Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, vice chairman of the committee, said he believes teacher salaries "must move up across the board."
"It not only helps us retain highly-effective teachers in the classroom, it also broadens the pool of available teachers," Horn wrote in an email to WRAL News. "The precipitous decline in enrollment in teacher prep programs is a national problem, not just a North Carolina problem. Many states are in much more dire straits than are we. Salaries are a big piece of that puzzle. I support the 'Increase by up to 3%' option (in the poll), but would like to do even more."
However, the 10 percent proposal "is simply unrealistic in our still-fragile economy," he added.
WRAL News also contacted Gov. Pat McCrory's office to ask about teacher salaries and school funding. The governor's spokesman, Graham Wilson, released the following statement:
"Since 2013, under Governor McCrory’s leadership, North Carolina has committed over $1 billion more for teacher pay through his first term, thanks in part to the largest average teacher pay increase in the country. We look forward to building on these important investments in the upcoming budget to strengthen education and better prepare our students for career opportunities."
State school board: Teacher salaries are top budget priority
The State Board of Education has created a list of six budget priorities it wants McCrory to consider this year. At the top of the list: teacher salaries.
School board members debated whether to request a specific amount, as the state superintendent did, but decided to focus on how North Carolina ranks against other states. They want North Carolina public schools to become No. 1 in the Southeast for teacher salaries. North Carolina is currently ranked 11th out of 12 states in the region, according to state education leaders.
It's unclear how much of an increase it would take to become No. 1. Philip Price, chief financial officer for the state Department of Public Instruction, said last week it "will take some time to determine that percentage," adding that "we are starting that process now."
State Superintendent Atkinson said Wednesday she believes it would take a more than 5 percent raise to become No. 1. Other than teacher pay, Atkinson cited professional development for teachers and textbooks and digital resources for students as her other top budget priorities.
The school board's top budget priorities total more than $200 million in extra funding requests, not including teacher raises, which have yet to be calculated. A 1 percent salary increase across the board, for example, would cost $50.1 million. This year, North Carolina public schools received more than $8.5 billion in funding from the state.
The school board's other top budget priorities include:
- $57 million for textbooks and digital resources
- $25 million for classroom technology
- $6 million to make the Home Base system free for all schools. Teachers use Home Base to access student data and teaching resources. Students use it to access assignments, grades and activities. Parents use it to view their children’s attendance and grades. Administrators use it to monitor data about students and teachers in their schools.
- $3 million nonrecurring and $2 million recurring funds to support upgrades to the Uniform Education Reporting System.
Teacher recruitment and retention
- $12 million for professional development, to restore the funds to 2008-09 levels
- $4 million in incentive bonuses for teachers exceeding growth in the lowest achieving 5 percent of schools
- $1 million to train lateral entry teachers, which would pay for two courses per year for those teachers
State agency support of public schools
- $8.6 million for intensive support for the lowest-achieving 5 percent of schools and 10 percent of districts
- $4 million for intensive support for students with behavioral/emotional needs
- $600,000 for leadership programs for principals and assistant principals
- $80,000 for the North Carolina Procurement Alliance
General classroom support
- $46.9 million for instructional supplies and equipment
- $20 million to support the implementation of Child Nutrition Program standards
- $11.5 million per year for five years to hire an additional 236 nurses to achieve the recommended ratio of one nurse to 750 students, per the National Association of School Nurses
- $4.5 million for additional assistant principal positions
- $4 million to support 13 new board-approved cooperative innovative high schools
- $1.3 million to restore 21 nurse positions eliminated in 2010-11
- $4.3 million to purchase safety equipment
- $510,000 for specific technology purchases for the Governor Morehead School and support for one technology position
- $440,000 to increase working months for some staff from 10 or 11 months to 12 months to meet federal mandates
- $300,000 to sponsor two residential summer programs for 150 children from the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf