North Carolina educators face uncertainties surrounding annual salaries and continue to experience wages that are among the worse in the country. This analysis post will focus on the discrepancies that exist regarding annual salaries for public high school teachers throughout North Carolina compared to other states across the nation, the repercussions taking place as a result of these low wages and discuss the current political policies in place to correct these issues.
While I will focus specifically on public high school teachers, it is worth mentioning the average salary of teachers in grades kindergarten through middle school, in order to best provide a foundation of what teachers across the state are experiencing and that this issue is not just limited to high school teachers. Early education teachers, as mentioned above, receive a mean annual salary of $43,198 dollars compared to the national U.S. mean of $51,354 dollars annually, with the exception of high cost of living states such as New York and California (http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nc.htm#25-0000). High school educators begin their teaching careers earning approximately $30,800 dollars a year, often taking up to 15 years to earn $40,000. The state’s average teacher salary, which encompasses teachers throughout all grades, is $45,967 annually, making North Carolina almost $10,000 dollars behind the national average (http://www.wral.com/low-pay-forces-nc-teachers-to-choose-between-profession-state/12828323/). Ultimately, these salary differences are creating problems that reverberate throughout the school systems and force talented, passionate teachers to leave their teaching careers in search of higher paying jobs elsewhere to support themselves and their families.
As North Carolina utilizes a state-mandated salary schedule to determine teacher’s minimum wages, the annual increases in salary are determined by experience as well as level of certification (http://www.teachingdegree.org/north-carolina/salary/). Regardless, lower salaries are affecting both new and veteran teachers alike with some choosing to leave the state or leave the career altogether. As seen in the 2013-2014 school year, 13,557 teachers left their local school districts, making the turnover rate 14.12 percent. This indicates that teachers throughout the state are discontent, for various reasons, and are seeking work elsewhere. While there was a six percent salary raise last year, many teachers still feel unjustly paid and taken advantage for (http://www.ncpublicschools.org/docs/educatoreffectiveness/surveys/leaving/2001-02turnoverreport.pdf). This turnover rate is creating issues elsewhere in the education community including gaps in teacher availability which places additional stress on the remaining teachers. Additionally, North Carolina has seen an alarming drop in enrollment in teacher training with a 20 percent decrease in the past three years with many places facing serious shortages in areas including science, math and special education (http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2015/03/03/389282733/where-have-all-the-teachers-gone). A shortage in teachers means an increase in the number of students per classroom, creating additional distractions and less one-on-one availability with struggling students.
In response to the increasing concern for salary injustice, teacher pay has become a major focal point for law makers in North Carolina and became a forefront political issue over the past few months as the state moved forward to provide salary increases for educators. (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/politics-columns-blogs/under-the-dome/article24618103.html). In early 2015, both the Senate and House proposed a two part change which included a pay increase at most levels and a gradual increase which allow teachers to move up in pay and experience on a yearly basis. While both the House and Senate agreed that teachers needed a pay raise, there were disagreements regarding the exact amount to be allotted. The House proposed an equally spread out salary boost across the board, while the Senate proposed to spend considerably less with the bulk of funding targeted towards early career teachers. Under the Senate’s proposal, the highest percentage salary increase would go to a teacher with four years of experience, while veteran teachers with more than 25 years’ experience would see no raises at all and their salary would be capped between $50,000 to $55,000 dollars. Overall, the pay increase would yield between a 12.8 to 16 percent change- an amount that would not prove sufficient in the long run (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2015/06/16/nc-senate-unveils-education-budget-that-guts-teacher-assistants-rewards-less-experienced-teachers/).
The long debate came to a conclusion in August 2015 between lawmakers and legislative officials with a spending plan that was originally set to be completed in June 2015. While the wait is finally over for the concerned teachers and school officials, the results were not as expected or hoped. After months of negotiations between the House and Senate, the state’s $21.74 billion dollar education funding budget is awaiting Governor Pat McCrory’s signature. The bill was passed in a final 81 to 22 vote by House and mandates that all teachers receive a $750 dollar bonus, an amount that only calculates to $62.50 per month, before taxes. While their annual salaries will increase to $35,000 dollars as promised, it still remains far below the national average of $44,900 dollars per year (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2015/08/26/just-in-house-senate-reach-deal-on-teacher-state-employee-pay-raises/).
The issues that arise from these unjust salaries are numerous. Perhaps the most concerning is the overall decline in the ability to obtain a quality education from North Carolina public schools. While the graduation rate for the 2014 school year hit the state’s record high of 83.9 percent (http://www.ncpublicschools.org/newsroom/news/2014-15/20140904-01), students are not obtaining the best education they can receive as more veteran teachers leave. The lack of incentives to keep or recruit veteran teachers is forcing the state to hire inexperienced teachers from out of state who hold little or no familiarity with North Carolina or its culture. Furthermore, state legislation dismissed raises for teachers who hold master degrees and ended the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program, which recruits students into education programs directly after high school (http://www.dukechronicle.com/article/2014/09/low-teacher-pay-sets-back-nc-education). This decision raises questions regarding the state’s respect for education within North Carolina and promotes increased worry about the future of education throughout the state. Teachers are the heart of the classrooms and the ones providing education to for future generations who deserve respect and least of all, salary compensation.