Commentary

Teacher salaries: the $50,000 question

Whether or not North Carolina teachers are making $50,000 has become the key talking point of the 2016 election season.  One frequently running ad from the McCrory campaign states that “average teacher pay next year will be over $50,000.”  Is this claim true?

A recent fact check at WRAL does a good job of covering this complex topic, correctly concluding “we won’t actually know whether the state hit that point until December.”  As explained in a previous post, it is difficult to predict the impact a budget will have on the average salaries of teachers in the subsequent year.  It is possible that average teacher salaries will exceed $50,000 in FY 16-17.

However, the question addressed by the WRAL fact-check “will average salaries exceed $50,000?” is different from the one posed by other claims made by McCrory and North Carolina Republicans: “did the 2016 Budget increase average teacher salaries above $50,000?”  The first question – as correctly noted by WRAL – is dependent upon teacher turnover.  While it is unlikely that average teacher salaries will exceed $50,000, we’ll find out the definitive answer to that question in December when the appropriate data is collected by the Department of Public Instruction.  The second question, however, is one that can be answered now (and in the negative) via simple math:

  • Every 1% increase in average teacher salaries costs $54.2 million
  • The 2016 Budget provides $205.8 million for teacher pay increases
  • That’s enough money to increase average salaries by 3.8%
  • Average salary in FY 15-16 (including local supplements) was $47,931
  • A 3.8% increase would bring average teacher salaries to $49,751

If average teacher salaries hit $50,000, there will be a hole in the budget of approximately $24 millionBased on this math, the Budget fails to provide for teacher salaries exceeding $50,000.  Additionally, the failure to include funding sufficient to bring average teacher salaries above $50,000 puts to lie the notion that either the General Assembly or the Governor’s Office is actually anticipating that average teacher salaries will exceed $50,000.  Their campaign ads say one thing, but their budget is saying another.

So will North Carolina’s average teacher salaries exceed $50,000?  It’s certainly possible, but unlikely.  For average teacher salaries to exceed $50,000, teacher turnover would need to be far lower than what has been observed in years’ past.

Does the 2016 Budget bill bring average teacher salaries above $50,000?  Definitely not.  The budget only provides enough funding to support an increase in average salaries to approximately $49,751.  While this is close to $50,000, it is still below $50,000.  If average salaries exceed $50,000, there will be a hole in the budget of approximately $24 million.

No matter where average salaries shake out, is still clear that North Carolina’s teacher salary levels fall well short of the levels required to recruit the best and the brightest into teaching.  While North Carolina’s teacher salaries compare unfavorably to other states, the data is even more dire when teacher salaries are compared to other industries in North Carolina.  Recent analysis from the Economic Policy Institute indicates that North Carolina ranks 49th in terms of teacher salary competitiveness.  No matter where average teacher salaries shake out this year, it’s clear that there is still much more work to be done.

4 Comments


  1. Jim Wiseman

    August 31, 2016 at 1:12 pm

    Studies have shown that teachers make more money than employees in other fields who constantly complain about their pay and end up getting fired.

  2. David

    August 31, 2016 at 4:02 pm

    What irks me is that Michael Lee is saying on TV that N.C. teachers now make over $50.000 a year (Not average). The beginning teacher with a Bachelors degree would have to work 25 years to make this much. It is very misleading to the general public who doesn’t know this and thinks that all teachers make this much money. I am a recently retired teacher and I know what a demanding job teaching is and what teachers deserve. It just makes me very angry to hear how politicians twist the facts just to get reelected! McCrory and the legislature are waging war on public education!

  3. Alan

    September 1, 2016 at 7:44 am

    Jim,

    Can you please cite the studies? I know of no teacher that makes more money than equivalently educated persons in the private sector.

  4. Bobby Dimwitt

    September 12, 2016 at 10:00 pm

    I’m sorry to say that there are an abundance (more like a plethora) of individuals that hold the position that Mr. “Wiseman” has. Sir. Instead of looking at this from the perspective that teachers are overpaid, undeserving nags, why not view it as a small group of specialized professionals teaching and nurturing a huge group of individuals that will represent our future. Students are the realization and materialization of our hopes and dreams. Why not pay that small group a livable wage??? Heck. Those nags are only guiding our future. But, I’m sure facts don’t matter to some, especially when one could vaguely refer to studies without citations. Studies have shown that people generally don’t care about facts, right???

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