Teacher pay – how much is enough?

$53,975.  $48,421. 6% “average” raises.  21.4% less. $51,231. $47,258. $30,326.

All those number have been some North Carolina politician’s spin on teacher pay. Let’s skip the spin: Our teachers are underpaid, period.

We have a state salary schedule that maxes out at $52,000.  Some local districts attempt to pay teachers more through property taxes, but other counties simply cannot raise enough funds from property taxes to make a difference in salaries.  Teacher pay still hasn’t recovered from the Great Recession: Even with recent raises, teachers are not making what they made plus inflation 10 years ago.

What should teachers make?

Certified teachers in North Carolina are required to have a bachelor’s degree.  They are required to have spent (or gone into debt for) the large amount of money necessary to get that degree.  And with that required degree, they can compete for higher-paying jobs here and elsewhere.  So any analysis of what teachers must start with what others with a bachelor’s make.

Then, given the gender pay disparity in America, we must aim for the (higher) average salary men receive, because public policy shouldn’t perpetuate that gap. With education dominated by women, we can make a real difference in the gender disparity by moving teacher salaries to the men’s average.

Which means we’re looking at a target average salary for North Carolina teachers of $61,871 … or 15% more than the overall “average” of all paychecks sent to teachers today.  This is slightly less than others’ calculation of the wage gap between teachers and comparable professionals, but it would be a great start.  It would pust us slightly above the national average—a reasonable place for the ninth-largest state in the union. Whether all the funding for this should come from the state or local supplements is a separate argument we’ll get into later, but for now, the General Assembly must commit to raising our salary schedule at least 15 percent, and now—because those goal posts move with inflation every year. 

If that sounds like a huge increase, remember: We used to have salaries like this. The Great Recession lasted less than two years, but teacher salaries in North Carolina were unnecessarily frozen—no raises at all—for seven years! Our gap has been caused by the recession plus a serious lack of commitment to keeping us at the strong level that Governor Hunt pushed us to in the late ‘90s.

We can and must close this gap now so that we restore teaching in North Carolina to a profession that:

  • strong college graduates want to enter,
  • great teachers can afford to stay in, and
  • allows teachers to focus on their craft with students, not the second and third jobs they have to take just to stay afloat.

When I was growing up, Governor Hunt knew that students had a better shot at success in school and life if schools respected and supported what matters most in schools to student success: teachers.  As state superintendent, I will bring creative solutions to remove the barriers in teachers’ way so we can return North Carolina to its spot as one of the best education states in the country and even the world.

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