NC ranks 37th in nation for teacher pay, 39th in per-pupil spending

Posted April 23, 2018
Updated March 12, 2019

Editor's note: This story has been updated to explain why North Carolina's average teacher salary is reported differently by NEA and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

North Carolina ranks 37th in the nation for average teacher pay, according to estimates released Monday by the National Education Association.

The estimate may be revised later based on updated data. Last year, NEA first estimated that North Carolina was 35th in the nation for teacher pay, but it revised the numbers to show that N.C. was 39th last year.

NEA's report, which details everything from teacher pay to school enrollment and funding by state, shows North Carolina's average teacher salary is $50,861 for the current school year. That's about $9,600 less than the national average teacher pay of $60,483, according to the report.

Last month, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction estimated that the state's average teacher pay has reached $51,214 this year – $353 more than what NEA estimated North Carolina's average salary to be. In an email to WRAL News, an official in NEA's research department explained the discrepancy in salary figures.

"The NC salary figure for this current school year is NEA's estimate based on numbers reported in the previous five years by NC DOE [Department of Education]," wrote Tim Tang, a senior research analyst at NEA. "We produced the estimate because NC DOE was not ready to report current year salary data during our data collection between 10/17—12/17. Our estimate does not differ much from the number you cited -- $353 (0.7%) and it was accepted by NC DOE in 11/2017. NEA provides state DOEs the opportunity to revise figures back to five years during data collection each year. Therefore, it is likely NC DOE will update their figure in our next data collection starting in October 2018."

North Carolina calculates its average teacher salary, which includes both state pay and local supplements, each February, months after NEA's deadline. State education leaders say they will send NEA the updated salary in October.

The salary 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.

Among the 12 states in the Southeast, North Carolina currently ranks sixth, according to NEA's latest estimates. The State Board of Education has set a goal to become No. 1 in the Southeast.

NEA's report also estimates that North Carolina is ranked 39th in the nation in per-pupil spending this year. The state is spending $9,528 per student compared with the U.S. average of $11,934.

Last year, NEA first estimated that North Carolina ranked 43rd in per-pupil spending but revised the numbers to show that N.C. was 39th last year as well.

NEA has produced the report for more than 70 years.

NC leaders react to rankings

Education and political leaders had different reactions to Monday's teacher pay rankings.

Gov. Roy Cooper, who has indicated he will include an increase in teacher pay in his upcoming budget, shared a statement through his spokesman, urging lawmakers to adopt his teacher pay proposals.

If lawmakers did that, "then North Carolina could get to at least the national average a lot faster," spokesman Ford Porter said. "We cannot accept this ranking because teachers must have professional pay, and students must have well qualified teachers."

The governor has not yet rolled out the details of his pay plan. The legislature goes back into session May 16, in part to tweak the coming fiscal year’s budget.

"You’re underpaid, you’re overworked, there’s not enough respect," Cooper told educators assembled Friday for the state’s annual Teacher of the Year ceremony. "We’re gonna fix that, by the way, next two years."

In an interview Monday, Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, said lawmakers "have consistently been in the process of raising teacher pay over the last several years coming out of the recession."

"In this year’s budget, we have already allotted an average 6.5 percent increase for this year," Dollar said. "We know we’re going to have that because we put that money aside last year. And of course we are on track to move forward to being a leader in the Southeast with respect to teacher pay."

Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, was pleased to see North Carolina move up slightly in the pay ranking but said he is "disappointed that we haven't moved up more." He pointed to the planned 6.5 percent raise as proof of lawmakers' desire to help teachers.

"Is that perfect? Is that great? I'm not going to stand up and tell you, 'That's wonderful. How terrific we are,' but we have committed to increasing teacher salary (and) moving about as best we can," Horn said, adding that poor counties especially need help. "We have counties that don't have a dime to put into education ... We have to find a way to ensure that we can attract and retain the highest quality teachers in the poorest areas. That's a challenge."

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

North Carolina Association of Educators President Mark Jewell said Monday that students "deserve public schools that have the resources they need to be successful and educators who are respected like the professionals they are."

"There have been some modest salary increases over the years, but they have been done haphazardly and unfairly," Jewell said. "Most of the educators with the most experience haven't had a pay raise, really, since the recession since 2008."

During the 2001-02 school year, North Carolina ranked 19th in the nation for teacher pay when its pay was 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.

How much to increase teacher pay, if at all, is a perennial budget issue for North Carolina governors and lawmakers. 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.

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.

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 because average teacher pay does not take into account the experience level of teachers in different states.​

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