As educators and advocates from across the state meet with lawmakers during tomorrow’s Rally for Respect, they will undoubtedly face several planned talking points meant to deflect from the General Assembly’s poor track record on public education. The responses below will hopefully assist public school advocates in overcoming the most common General Assembly excuses for its failure to adequately fund our public schools and its failure to provide competitive pay for teachers.
1. The claim: “Per-student funding has increased every year”
The facts: Nominal funding increases have not kept pace with increased enrollment and inflation. Per-student funding remains 7% below pre-Recession levels when adjusted for inflation.
Of the 24 biggest funding allotments prior to the recession, 19 remain below their pre-Recession levels. That means:
- Less funding for teachers;
- Less funding for support staff like counselors, school psychologists, nurses and librarians;
- 7,500 fewer state-funded teacher assistants;
- A 51%reduction in per-student funding for textbooks, supplies, and technology; and
- The elimination of state funding for professional development and mentoring.
Over the same time period, our students are facing greater challenges, with an increasing share of public school students coming from low-income families, from homes where English is not the primary language, and from households that have experienced early childhood trauma.
Other states continue to pull away from North Carolina. Prior to the Recession, North Carolina’s per-student school funding trailed the national average by 18%. Today, North Carolina trails the national average by 25 percent. We’re even 25% below South Carolina!
2. The claim: “We’ve given five straight years of pay increases / How much teacher pay is enough?”
The facts: We still aren’t close to where we need to be to attract and retain the state’s best talent into the teaching profession. North Carolina has failed to close the gap on the national average since control of the General Assembly flipped in 2011. North Carolina’s average teacher salary trailed the national average by 16% in FY 10-11, and continues to trail the national average by 16% today. We actually would have lost ground against the national average had local districts not increased their local teacher salary supplements over this period.
Finally, our most experienced teachers have had their salaries frozen in recent years. Approximately 3,742 teachers (those on steps 31 and higher) have seen their state-supported salaries fall in inflation-adjusted terms.
North Carolina’s teacher pay will be enough when we offer teachers pay packages that are competitive with other college-degree-requiring professions in the state. Countries with successful education systems provide their educators with salaries comparable to the salaries of other college-degree-requiring professions. By this measure, North Carolina ranked 48th for teacher salary competitiveness from 2011 to 2015. Providing competitive pay will require raising North Carolina teacher salaries above the national average – a mark we still trail by 16%.
3. The claim: “When adjusted for cost-of-living, North Carolina ranks 29th for teacher pay”
The facts: Cost-of-living adjustments are an inappropriate way to make cross-state comparisons of teacher pay. The higher cost-of-living in North Carolina’s cities largely reflects the relative attractiveness of life in places like Raleigh and Charlotte, which bids down wages in those areas. The more appropriate measure is looking at how teacher pay compares to other college-degree-requiring professions in each state. By this measure, North Carolina offers some of the least competitive teacher pay in the nation. Contrary to what the uninformed folks at right-wing think tanks would tell you, North Carolina’s teacher pay is actually worse – not better – than what simple national rankings would indicate.
4. The claim: “We already dedicate 57% of the budget to education / ranks 14th in terms of share of school funding from state sources”
The facts: The share of the budget going to education tells us nothing about whether educators have the resources necessary to educate to every North Carolina student. The actual share going to our public schools is 39%, a share that has remained relatively consistent over the past 10 years.
Similarly, North Carolina’s share of funding from state sources is necessarily high due to constitutional and statutory requirements. Few states constitutions’ place as much responsibility for funding public schools on the state as does North Carolina’s. In North Carolina, state laws place all of the responsibility for school operating expenses on the state. Other states place much more funding responsibility on local governments.
These statistics, however, tell us nothing about whether educators are receiving the resources necessary to educate every North Carolina student. Our stagnating test scores and widening achievement gaps would indicate that our schools require more investment.
5. The claim: “We rank 1st in teacher wage growth in 2017, and 2nd in teacher wage growth in 2018.”
The facts: Speaker Moore has attributed these figures to data from the NEA, but the data from the NEA tell a different story. According to data from the NEA, North Carolina ranked 40th in 2016, 2nd in 2017, and 17th in 2018. It is unclear where Speaker Moore’s figures are coming from, but his figures are not consistent with the data he claims he’s using.
Regardless, these statistics are not sufficient to make up for the first five post-Recession budgets when North Carolina’s year-over-year changes to average teacher pay ranked 50th (09-10), 43rd (10-11), 47th (11-12), 45th (12-13), and 49th (13-14).
6. The claim: “We tried to lower class size, and you all complained”
The facts: The debate over class size was related to whether or not class-size requirements would be funded, or whether they would be an unfunded mandate. Nobody was debating the benefits of smaller class sizes.
HB 90 partially settled the situation by providing some additional funding to hire more teachers. However, school districts will still need additional funding to build the physical classrooms necessary to meet new class-size requirements.
7. The claim: “Locals need to step up and pay more”
The facts: Not all districts have the fiscal capacity to make up for state funding shortfalls. Relying on local, rather than state, revenues will create large resource inequities across school districts. These resource inequities will fall hardest on low-wealth counties that disproportionately serve students of color.
In addition to exacerbating racial and income-based achievement gaps, a shift towards a locally-driven funding model would be in violation of current law. North Carolina law is clear that the state is responsible for providing the full funding for school operations, while local governments are in charge of providing funding for school buildings.
8. The claim: “We’re trying the best we can”
The facts: Actually, school funding effort can be measured by comparing combined state and local expenditures to the size of the state’s economy (GDP). By this commonly used measure, North Carolina’s school funding effort has fallen nearly every year since the 2011 change in General Assembly leadership. According to the most recent federal data (FY 14-15), North Carolina ranks 46th in terms of school funding effort, dead last in the Southeast.
Since 2013, state tax cuts (which have mostly benefited corporations and wealthy North Carolinians) have drained $2.6 billion from state coffers. Further tax cuts (again, disproportionately benefiting corporations and high-income North Carolinians) will drain an additional $900 million of state revenue.
9. The claim: “Last I checked, we do pretty well on national tests”
The facts: North Carolina was once a shining beacon of the South, but we are now being passed by more and more states. From 2011 to 2017, North Carolina’s ranking on the national NAEP exam has fallen in three of four testing areas (4th grade math, 8th grade math, and 8th grade reading). The fourth area (4th grade reading) is not comparable across the time period due to technical changes in the sample of North Carolina test-takers.
Over this same time period, achievement gaps have been increasing for African-American students, and students who come from families qualifying for free or reduced lunch.
10. The claim: “If we cut DPI and bloated central offices, we could fund classrooms”
The facts: DPI, which has already been cut by more than $22 million since FY 08-09, only receives about $45 million of state funding, or about 0.44% of total state funding for public schools. Eliminating funding for DPI would not solve our funding shortfall, and would eliminate essential services such as financial monitoring and support for low-performing schools.
Similarly, district central offices comprise less than 1% of all public school funding. State funding for central office positions has already been slashed over 25% from pre-Recession levels, a figure that fails to account for inflation or the additional responsibilities placed on central office staff over the past decade (for example, the 2017 budget created 19 new reporting requirements).