Politics & Government

Fact check: Are NC teachers getting paid as fast and as much as this legislator claims?

Watch thousands of NC teachers march to Legislature in 30 seconds

A time-lapse video shows NC teachers marching to Legislature in Raleigh, N.C. calling for better pay and funding for public schools Wednesday, May 16, 2018.
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A time-lapse video shows NC teachers marching to Legislature in Raleigh, N.C. calling for better pay and funding for public schools Wednesday, May 16, 2018.

Teacher pay is always a popular topic around election time. Republicans and Democrats either want credit for any progress being made, or want to blame the other side for any lack of progress.

Sen. Michael Lee, a Republican from Wilmington, is gearing up for re-election against Harper Peterson, a former Wilmington mayor. He tweeted on Aug. 28 that “teacher pay has increased under Republican leadership every year for the past 5 years. In fact, even according to the national teacher’s unions own rankings, NC ranked number 2 in the U.S. for fastest rising teacher pay 2016-2017.”

Did teacher pay increase over the past five years?

Here’s the average teacher salary from the past five years:

2013-14: $44,990

2014-15: $47,819

2015-16: $47,985

2016-17: $49,837

2017-18: $50,861

Those teacher salaries also include supplements, but those are provided by the local district and not the General Assembly.

The numbers do not take into consideration any rise in health care premiums, cost-of-living or other expenses. The average rate of inflation over the course of these years was 2.3 percent, based on information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

At first glance, it does appear that teachers got a pay raise every year. However, the salary schedules from the North Carolina Department of Instruction tell a slightly different story.

teachers march.jpg
Marchers walk up Fayetteville Street during the March for Students and Rally for Respect Wednesday, May 16, 2018. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

Teachers with 35 years of experience were being paid $52,150 in the 2013-14 school year. In the 2014-15 school year, the base salary for teachers with 25 years of experience or more dropped to $50,000. The 2016 “Held Harmless” statute made sure no teacher would make less in 2016-17 than in 2014-15. So, those teachers did not receive a pay cut in the following years.

The average pay did increase every year after the 2013-14 school year. In the 2017-18 academic year, teachers with 35 years of experience were paid $51,300.


An earlier version of this story said teachers received pay cuts following the 2013-14 academic year. However, we neglected to factor in the “Held Harmless” statute that prevents teacher pay cuts.

It’s the same story for teachers with 36 years of experience. They were paid $53,180 in the 2013-14 academic year, but teachers who reach 36 years of experience would’ve been paid $50,000 in the 2014-15 academic year. In the 2017-18 academic year, these teachers were paid $51,300 as well.

The same “Held Harmless” statute has been in budgets including the 2018-19 plan so no teacher gets a pay cut.

In addition, teachers with up to four years were the only ones to get a base salary increase in the 2015-16 academic year. They were paid $33,000 in 2014-15, and then paid $35,000 in 2015-16.

In the following years, first-year teachers did not see an increase to their base salary. It stayed at $35,000.

How fast did teacher pay increase?

North Carolina was ranked second in having the fastest teacher pay raise in 2016-17 nationally, according to the National Education Association. This is where Lee’s legislative assistant, Emily Barnes, says Lee got his information.

However, that hasn’t always been the case. In the 2013-14 academic year, North Carolina was ranked 48th for percentage change in average teacher salary, with a -1.6 percent change. The state also ranked 41st in the 2015-16 academic year for teacher pay raises with a 0.3 percent change.

North Carolina did rank first in teacher pay raise in 2014-15 with a 6.3 percent change from the previous year.

PolitiFact ruling

Teachers did get a salary increase in each of the past five years under Republican leadership. However, despite the “Held Harmless” statute, teachers who reach 25 years of experience or more today would not make as much as they would have in 2013-14. That’s the main wrinkle in Lee’s claim. North Carolina ranked second in fastest-rising teacher pay in 2016-17, though the ranking wasn’t consistent over the years. We rate this claim Mostly True.

This story was produced by the North Carolina Fact-Checking Project, a partnership of McClatchy Carolinas, the Duke University Reporters’ Lab and PolitiFact. The NC Local News Lab Fund and the International Center for Journalists provide support for the project, which shares fact-checks with newsrooms statewide.


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