Prosperity Watch (Issue 64, No. 3)

Aug. 16, 2016

As children, families, teachers and communities prepare to head back to school, the issue of teacher pay continues to linger in North Carolina. Despite incremental changes in the past two years by state lawmakers to change the structure of pay for teachers and invest more in teacher pay, North Carolina teachers remain near the bottom among their peers in other states for average pay.  Even with the changes to the state’s teacher plan made in the 2016-17 budget, analysis shows that average teacher pay will likely just reach $49,620. That means that many teachers across the state will still earn far below what it takes to make ends meet in their counties.

New research from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) provides another benchmark against which we can measure North Carolina teacher pay and compensation.  Researchers compared the weekly wages of teachers to the pay of workers with similar education levels. They also reviewed compensation packages.  A public school teacher in North Carolina earns just 65 cents for every dollar that a comparable worker earns, according to findings from the research. That ranks North Carolina third lowest in the country, with only Colorado and Arizona faring worse. Both of these states that have pursued rigid restrictions to their respective state budget and tax policies, and teachers and students have seen the limits that result.

Even though this data precedes some of the more recent policy decisions enacted by N.C. lawmakers to adjust teacher pay, the small investments made in Fiscal Year 2016-17 due to tax cuts are unlikely to result in significant change to the ratio of wages earned by public school teachers compared to their peers with similar education levels in other areas of employment.

When teachers are not paid at levels comparable to workers with similar education in other professions, the ability to retain good teachers erodes.  Good, quality teachers are an important and integral part of both an enriching learning environment for students and the stability of classroom and school performance. These findings from EPI underline the need to better compensate quality North Carolina teachers in order to keep them in our classrooms, preparing every child in the state for success.