The 2016-17 North Carolina budget includes a problematic line that has become a prominent Republican talking point. Under the item explaining the change in teacher salaries, it reads: “Together, these increases provide, on average, a 4.7% increase for educators, and increase the expected average salary for educators from all fund sources to over $50,150 in FY 2016-17.” Historically, General Assembly budget documents have included a mention of the average pay raise. Looking back as far as 1997, however, General Assembly budgets have never tried to predict a budget’s impact on next year’s average salaries. Not only is this information new…it’s dead wrong.
Predicting the average pay raise that would be experienced by the existing teaching force if they all returned the subsequent year is easy. This is how the General Assembly has historically described new teacher pay plans, and is how the 4.7% figure from this year’s Budget was calculated.
Predicting the average teacher salary in future years, however, is quite difficult. Most notably, we don’t know who will be teaching next year. Ignoring teachers moving from one North Carolina school district to another, last year’s teacher turnover rate was 11.6%. As most are probably aware, North Carolina’s teachers are paid according to an experienced- and credential-based salary schedule. For example, a teacher with thirty years of experience and National Board Certification receives a base salary of $57,120 under the 2016 Budget, while a new teacher receives a base salary of $35,000. So when a teacher leaves the profession, he or she is replaced by a teacher who almost certainly has a different salary.
Predicting teacher turnover is incredibly challenging. Factors affecting turnover rates can include:
- The age of the teaching force
- Student growth
- Teacher working conditions
- The salary schedule
- Economic conditions
- Political climate
These factors change from year-to-year, and some are difficult to quantify.
According to the nonpartisan Fiscal Research Division, the determination that the average salary for educators will exceed $50,150 in FY 16-17 is based simply on applying the average pay increase for teachers employed this year and returning next year (4.7%), and multiplying it by the current average teacher salary from all fund sources of $47,931 (i.e., the average salary including local salary supplements). In other words, the FY 16-17 average teacher salary will exceed $50,150 only if nearly all the teachers employed this year return to teaching in the upcoming school year. Historical data shows us that such an assumption is absurd.
A look at the dollars appropriated for the teacher salary plan shows that not even the General Assembly believes that the average FY 16-17 teacher salary will exceed $50,150. According to data from the Department of Public Instruction, every 1% increase in teacher salaries costs the State $54,202,638. The 2016 Budget provides $190,947,111 for increasing teacher salaries, sufficient to cover an increase in average salaries of only 3.52%. Based on the current average teacher salary from all fund sources of $47,931, there is only enough money in the Budget to support an average salary of $49,620 in FY 16-17. If average salaries in FY 16-17 indeed reach $50,150 (a 4.63% increase), there would be a $60 million hole in the Budget.
The General Assembly should modify their talking points – and their newfound willingness to include propaganda in budget documents. Despite what the 2016 Budget says, average salaries will not exceed $50,150 in FY 16-17. Teacher turnover will not be zero.
 If the appropriations for the various performance pay plans are included, one could argue that the 2016 Budget provides $205,847,111 for teacher salaries, or the equivalent of a 3.8% raise. A 3.8% increase in average salaries would result in an average salary of $49,751 in FY 16-17.