NC teachers rally for better pay, better teaching conditions in 2014
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Republicans did not give teachers a raise in 2011, 2012 or 2013. While there were no raises in 2011 and 2013, in 2012 all state employees including teachers got a 1.2 percent raise. Yet despite that raise, as the article noted, the state’s average teacher pay still fell that year.
With teachers coming to Raleigh on Wednesday to protest for higher wages and more school funding, people can expect to see plenty of numbers and rankings being thrown around by both supporters and critics of the protesters.
To help keep things straight, here are some of the facts on North Carolina's teacher salaries, and education spending in general.
▪ Average teacher pay in 2017-18: $51,214.
▪ National ranking: 39th (out of all 50 states plus D.C.)
▪ Trending up: North Carolina's teacher pay ranking has risen from 47th in 2013 to 39th now.
▪ Inflation hurts: Although the numbers might look bigger, this year's average pay of $51,214 means that teachers still have about $5,000 less in purchasing power than they did before the recession.
What do politicians want to do about it?
As teachers take to the streets in protest in Raleigh, Republicans and Democrats both want to give them raises, but have different ideas on how to do it.
▪ Republican plan: GOP legislative leaders have said they want to give teachers around a 6 percent average raise next year. Instead of trying to catch up to the national average, they said they'll consider giving bonuses for high performers or for teaching jobs in high-demand subjects. They also want to keep all current tax cuts planned to go into effect.
▪ Democrat plan: Gov. Roy Cooper has said he wants to give teachers around an 8 percent raise next year, as part of a plan to eventually reach the national average. He also wants raises for veteran teachers, who don't get any in the GOP legislative plan. They want to keep most planned tax cuts, but pay for the higher raises by stopping a planned tax cut for businesses and for individual income over $200,000.
Meanwhile, both sides have said they would rather not have teachers marching Wednesday — although for different reasons.
Cooper said last week when he announced his budget proposals that "North Carolina must treat educators like the professionals they are. They shouldn't have to take to the streets."
Republican Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said that while he plans to meet with teachers from his district, he thinks the protests in general are too politically motivated. "The fact that a million kids are not going to be in school tomorrow because a political organization wants to have folks come here to communicate with us or send a message or whatever is probably the front-and-center thing about this," he said.
Another of his GOP colleagues was less polite in his assessment. Rep. Mark Brody, a Republican from Union County, called those planning to protest "union thugs." (However, North Carolina is a "right to work" state and no one, including teachers, can be forced to join or pay dues to unions or groups such as the N.C. Association of Educators.)
Experienced teachers vs. new teachers
House Speaker Tim Moore said in a Tuesday news conference that Republicans deserve credit for focusing on early-career teachers and getting them to stay in the profession.
"Remember just a few years ago starting teacher pay was $27,000," Moore said. "Now it's $35,000. And that's where we were having some of the largest teacher retention issues, in those first few years."
Sometimes the actions of Moore and his fellow GOP legislators have led veteran teachers to say they feel left out. The legislature doesn't have plans at the moment to give raises next year to teachers with 25 years or more experience, and lawmakers already got rid of the longevity pay that veteran teachers used to make, back in 2015.
A brief history of NC teacher pay
Here's how much the average North Carolina teacher has been paid each year in the past decade. This counts both the state-funded base pay and any locally funded supplements. It does not account for inflation.
As the timeline shows, teacher pay had been trending upward until the Great Recession hit. In 2009, Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue ordered a 0.5 percent pay cut for all state employees, including teachers, and the Democrat-controlled Legislature voted to freeze teachers' salaries.
Teachers got no raises in 2010, either. In the 2010 elections, Republicans won control of the legislature. In each of the next three years, the state's average teacher pay steadily dropped, and more experienced teachers retired, quit or moved to other states. By 2013, North Carolina had plummeted to 47th in the nation in average teacher pay.
But then teacher pay began rising again. In their fourth year in charge, in 2014, Republicans approved the state's first teacher pay raise since 2008. While it made headlines for being the largest pay raise teachers received in any state that year, it also only was enough to bring the state's declining pay back to the same level it had been before Republicans took over the Legislature. Pay increased again in 2015, and then in 2016 and 2017 the GOP-led Legislature approved two more budgets with larger teacher pay raises.
The state's average teacher is still paid about $10,000 less than the national average, however. And if you do take inflation into account, teacher salaries in North Carolina still aren't as high as they were before the recession.
While average teacher's pay is now above $51,000, it would have to exceed $56,000 in order to keep up with inflation compared to the 2007-08 school year.
Nearly every teacher in the state gets a base salary from the state, and local school districts also typically add in some money on top of that.
Part of the reason that North Carolina ranks low in teacher pay is that local school budgets — which are funded by city or county governments — tend to be stingier than in other states. On one hand, that puts more pressure on the state to pick up the tab. On the other hand, it keeps property taxes low and lessens the gap in school quality between rich and poor areas.
The state-funded base pay scale ranges from a minimum of $35,000 for brand new teachers to a minimum of $51,300 for teachers with 25 years of experience or more.
Of the state's 115 local school boards, only a few small rural districts don't pay any additional supplements on top of the state's base salary. In most places, teachers can get anywhere from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars extra. Wake County, which runs the biggest school district in the state, also has the most generous supplements. In the 2015-16 school year, the average Wake County Public Schools System teacher got a nearly $7,000 supplement.
Teachers also can get higher salaries if they have advanced degrees or if they become certified by a national teaching standards board. For instance, a veteran teacher with national board certification and a doctorate will get a raise of more than $14,000 a year from the state, and could get a higher local supplement as well. The Republican-led Legislature recently took away newer teachers' ability to get a raise for having an advanced degree, but teachers who already had those raises were grandfathered in.