As a parent and educator, I have been watching the North Carolina state legislature budget process as I do every year. My livelihood and the livelihood of my peers in the educational trenches depend upon the proposals and subsequent compromises that arise from the work our legislators are able to do together. I have an enduring expectation that educating young people shouldn’t be a partisan issue, but unfortunately it often turns into one and as a result our kids and the future of our state often lose out.
This year’s budget looks like it might include some relief for North Carolina’s teachers. The proposed budget includes a 3.5% raise over the next 2 years with the start date beginning in January 2020 rather than the beginning of the school year when raises have historically taken place. According to the North Carolina Department of Instruction, NC average teacher pay is currently $53,975 and the NC Senate proposed budget would move the average salary to $55,600. The NC House proposed budget version would move average salaries to $54,500. Agreements still need to be reached, but the house and senate proposals are close which is hopeful for the hardworking K-12 teachers in our state. NC Governor, Roy Cooper’s proposed budget, which seems out of reach based on the Senate and House proposals, asks for a 9.1% raise for teachers since our state’s educators are still behind the $60,477 national average.
A recent study by the nonpartisan Public School Forum of North Carolina disputes the average teacher pay figure of $53,975 put forward by the NC Department of Public Instruction that is being bantered around Raleigh and maintains that more than 80% of North Carolina’s school fall below the state average used in our state government’s teacher compensation conversations. The forum’s study sites “salary supplements funded through local property taxes” and “bonuses and other funds many teachers don’t receive,” which result in gaps between highest and lowest paid districts in excess of $10,000 per year. These factors and others work together to place North Carolina teacher pay 45th in the US in “teacher salary parity.”
A bright spot in both the House and Senate proposed budgets is an annual classroom supply budget given to teachers to buy what is needed in their individual classroom in addition funds already supplied to districts for supplies. There is a dispute between the chambers regarding the amount of this individual teacher allowance (currently between $300 – $400). The House and Senate further disagree when it comes to providing raises for educators who have prepared for their profession by earning advanced degrees. The House plan would restore the additional pay teachers once received based on their level of education. The Senate plan would not.
It will be illuminating to see where our state ends up as the final version of the state budget emerges from current proposals. An educated electorate is imperative not only for our state’s economy, but also to ensure future voters have the ability to tease through the rhetoric and posturing of our elected officials and have the ability to make sound decisions with regard to policy and governing. Let’s not forget, qualified and well-paid teachers who are highly prepared for their profession deliver North Carolina our next generation of thinkers, business leaders, parents, and voters!