In 2000, North Carolina was striving to move up the teacher-pay ranks. We were in the middle, relative to other states, but we wanted to be near the top. Manufacturing jobs were disappearing, the economy was changing, and we knew our kids would need a great education in order to get good jobs. We wanted our state’s best and brightest to consider becoming teachers, so we had to pay well – and we were okay with that.
Today, we seem to have abandoned the whole idea of being a Southern education superstar. A recent report from the National Education Association finds that North Carolina’s average teacher salary is nearly $10,000 less than the national average. We rank 46th in the nation.
We’ve sunk so low because all North Carolina state employees (except the members of the governor’s newly appointed cabinet) have seen their salaries virtually frozen since 2008. As a result, one out of nine teachers in North Carolina earns the lowest base salary of $30,800. In inflation-adjusted dollars, the average salary for North Carolina teachers dropped by 15.7% from 2001-02 to 2011-12. And let’s not forget – 80% of public school teachers in North Carolina are women.
What does this mean for your children’s education? Well, certainly, very few of the best and brightest students graduating from our public universities are going into teaching. And that matters – a lot. Having a great teacher can make a difference for a lifetime, as studies show that students with excellent teacher earn more over the course of their careers.
Sadly, many of those who do choose to go into teaching don’t last more than a few years. As reported in an Associated Press article about the NEA’s salary study:
“The low pay is pushing even the best teachers out,” said Darcy Grimes, the North Carolina Teacher of the Year. Grimes, who teaches at Bethel Elementary School in Watauga County, said she knows from conversations that five of the last year’s nine regional winners of the top-teacher contest are thinking of quitting within a few years to find better-paying work. “Teachers are tired.”
In this video by the NC Association of Educators, Columbus County high school teacher LaTanya Pattillo points out, “As an educator, not only do I have to have my salary for my personal benefit, but a lot of that still goes back into the classroom and what I have to do to be a successful educator.” She says teachers are talking about the low pay, and some are looking for opportunities to get out of the education biz.
They’re moving on to careers that pay more and where they are not regularly bashed by the politicians in charge of the education system. Or they’re moving to one of the 45 states – including Virginia, Maryland, Georgia and South Carolina – that pay their teachers more.
And our kids are suffering as a result. Teachers with great energy and new ideas just want to be valued. They’re happy to help our children learn and thrive, but at the end of the day, they have their own families to worry about. They need to be able to afford a home and to send their own children to college. That’s not a lot to ask for the people in charge of providing our children with the education that will shape their futures.
Because let’s face it – without a good education, our kids are going to be in trouble when they enter the job market 10 or 15 years from now. Most of the decent-paying jobs of the future will require some education after high school. Even manufacturing jobs are now primarily technology-based. And many professions will face competition globally, so our kids will have to fight for their jobs against kids from countries where investments in education, including teacher pay, are the top priority.
Well, not all professions are competitive. In fact, those industries with the lowest-paying jobs – like home health, food preparation, and retail – are expected to have the strongest job growth in the next decade.
So unless we invest in our education system, our children’s career paths may look like a tour of chain restaurants – McDonald’s to Applebee’s to PF Chang’s and, maybe if they’re really good, Carrabba’s.
Or we can invest in our schools now. And the truth is, paying our teachers more is the most effective investment we can make.