Imagine getting two job offers. The first job offer would provide a raise of ten percent while the second would provide a raise of 9.6 percent. Obviously, a full ten percent raise is better, but it’s probably fair to describe both offers as “effectively the same.”
According to the North Carolina Republican party, North Carolina’s teachers are facing the above scenario. Press releases from the Republican Senate and House Caucuses claim that the just-passed General Assembly budget will provide teachers with an average raise of 9.6 percent by the 2018-19 school year, which they describe as “effectively the same” as the Governor’s proposal. After all, the Governor has described his salary plan as providing a 10 percent raise over the biennium.
The competing teacher salary plans certainly sound like they are comparable. A closer analysis, however, shows that they are significantly different. The problem is, that when the General Assembly describes their plan as a 9.6 percent raise, and the Governor describes his plan as a 10 percent raise, they are talking about completely different things.
There are two ways to describe the impact of a teacher salary plan.
The first, most commonly used construct is to describe the plan’s average raise for existing teachers. When the General Assembly says that their teacher pay plan would provide an average raise of 9.6 percent by the 2018-19 school year, they are saying that if every teacher who taught in the 2016-17 school year returned to teach in 2018-19, the average raise would be 9.6 percent above 2016-17 pay levels. This is how annual pay increases have traditionally been described, including in documents produced by the Department of Public Instruction, and the nonpartisan Fiscal Research Division.
The second way to describe the impact of a teacher salary plan is in terms of the anticipated impact on the statewide average teacher salary. This construct is less frequently used, as it is an estimate rather than a calculation. We can accurately calculate what the average raise will be if every teacher returns in a given year. Of course, in practice, not every teacher will return. On average, older, higher-paid teachers are replaced by younger, lower-paid teachers. As a result of this turnover, the year-over-year change in statewide average teacher pay is harder to predict, though it has always been less than the average raise provided to existing teachers. Due to this uncertainty, North Carolina policymakers have generally avoided trying to predict this figure.
When the General Assembly has been describing their teacher pay plan, they’ve been describing it in terms of the average raise to existing teachers. When the Governor has been describing his teacher pay plan, he’s been describing it in terms of anticipated impact on statewide average teacher pay.
So how do the teacher pay plans stack up if described in equivalent terms?
In terms of average raise to existing teachers, the General Assembly plan provides a raise of 3.3 percent in FY 2017-18, and a raise of 9.6 percent above FY 2016-17 levels in FY 2018-19. The Governor’s proposal provides an average raise of 6.2 percent in FY 2017-18, and a raise of 12.6 percent above FY 2016-17 levels in FY 2018-19.
In terms of anticipated impact on statewide average teacher pay, the General Assembly’s budget only includes enough funding for average teacher pay to increase by 1.8 percent in 2017-18 and by 6.6 percent in 2018-19. By contrast, the Governor’s budget included sufficient monies for average teacher pay to increase 4.8 percent in 2017-18 and by 9.6 percent in 2018-19.
It is unfortunate that the Governor continues to describe his teacher pay plan in terms of the anticipated impact on statewide average teacher pay. After all, we’ve known he’s been underselling his plan for more than two months. This mistake has allowed the General Assembly to falsely claim their teacher pay plan is similar to the Governor’s plan, even though the Governor’s plan is substantially superior. The Governor’s plan provides significantly higher average raises that don’t neglect our most experienced teachers.
Shame on the Governor for his poor salesmanship. Shame on the General Assembly for being intentionally dishonest.
 Of course, last year the General Assembly and Governor McCrory both tried to predict this figure, falsely claiming that the 2016 budget would bring average teacher pay to either above $50,150 or above $50,000. Neither claim was true.