NC ranks 35th in nation for teacher pay; 43rd in per-pupil spending

Posted May 10, 2017 9:00 a.m. EDT
Updated May 10, 2017 6:49 p.m. EDT

— North Carolina ranks 35th in the nation for average teacher pay, an improvement from last year, when the state ranked 41st, according to estimates released Wednesday by the National Education Association.

Among the 12 states in the Southeast, North Carolina now ranks fifth, an improvement from ninth last year. The State Board of Education has set a goal to become No. 1 in the Southeast.

The NEA's report, which details everything from teacher pay to school enrollment and funding by state, shows North Carolina's average teacher salary is $49,837 for the 2016-17 school year. That's about $9,000 less than the national average of $58,950, according to the report.

The figures represent the average gross salary before deductions for things such as Social Security, retirement and insurance and do not take into account cost-of-living differences among the states.

NEA's report also found that North Carolina is projected to be ranked 43rd in the nation in per-pupil spending. It ranked 42nd last year. North Carolina is projected to spend $8,940 per student, down from $8,955 the prior year.

"This is more than $3,000 behind the national average and comes at a time when the state has had several years of $500-600 million surpluses," the North Carolina Association of Educators said in a statement.

“We should give our students the schools they deserve by prioritizing classrooms, not corporate boardrooms,” said NCAE President Mark Jewell. “Not only should we be making the critical investments in our educators but also giving them the resources required to help our students be successful.”

Southeast 2016-17 average teacher pay ranking

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National 2016-17 average teacher pay ranking

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How much to increase teacher pay, if at all, is a perennial budget issue North Carolina governors and lawmakers face. In the past 15 years, North Carolina teachers have seen average salary increases anywhere from zero to more than 8 percent. At times, they have had pay freezes, no step increases and bonuses of varying amounts.

Gov. Roy Cooper called for 5 percent raises for teachers in each of the next two years as part of a five-year plan to raise salaries to the national average. The state Senate is voting this week on a proposed budget that would raise teacher salaries by an average of 9.5 percent by 2018-19, but teachers with 25 years or more experience in the classroom would get no increase at all.

"You are talking about people who have dedicated their lives – dedicated their lives – to teaching children, and you're telling them, after they reached 25 years of experience, they're not worth any more," said Margie Riedell, who teaches at River Dell Elementary School in Clayton.

Riedell has taken to social media to demand higher pay.

"There are too many teachers in North Carolina who have second and third jobs to make ends meet," she said, noting that she also works part-time as a real estate agent.

Riedell said she earned more when she started teaching in New Jersey 15 years ago than she does now.

"Teachers are afraid to speak up, they're afraid for their jobs, they're afraid to talk about how low our pay is, and they're embarrassed because they don't want parents to know how sad our paychecks are," she said. "There are so many teachers who have left the profession that are amazing teachers, and that's sad to me because the children are missing out."

When adjusted for inflation, North Carolina's average teacher salary dropped more than 13 percent from 1999 to 2015, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The U.S. average teacher salary dropped 1.8 percent in that same timeframe.

During the 2001-02 school year, North Carolina ranked 19th in the nation, with pay within $2,000 of the then-national average of $44,655, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

In 2013-14, North Carolina hit its lowest rank in more than a decade – 47th in the nation, with teachers paid nearly $12,000 below the national average of $56,610.

"We need to value our children by valuing our teachers," Riedell said. "I love teaching. I don't love my paycheck."

Teacher salaries in North Carolina are paid both by the state government and, in many counties, by a local supplement.

While average teacher pay rankings are one way to compare North Carolina to the rest of the country, education leaders say those numbers don't tell the whole story. For example, average teacher pay does not take into account the experience level of teachers in different states.​