Public education is on the front burner of the public policy debate these days. With both the new school year and the 2016 election campaign now in full swing, all sorts of numbers and claims are being thrown around by advocates, candidates elected officials.
Fortunately, experts in the North Carolina Justice Center’s Education and Law and Budget and Tax Center projects have prepared the following two, “just the facts” essays that lay out the hard data in simple, easy-to-understand language.
Teacher salaries: The $50,000 question
By Kris Nordstrom, Education Policy and Finance Consultant at the North Carolina Justice Center’s Education and Law Project
Whether or not North Carolina teachers are making $50,000 has become the key talking point of the 2016 election season. One frequently running ad from the McCrory campaign  states that “average teacher pay next year will be over $50,000.” Is this claim true?
A recent fact check at WRAL  does a good job of covering this complex topic, correctly concluding “we won’t actually know whether the state hit that point until December.” As explained in a previous post , it is difficult to predict the impact a budget will have on the average salaries of teachers in the subsequent year. It is possible that average teacher salaries will exceed $50,000 in FY 16-17.
However, the question addressed by the WRAL fact-check “will average salaries exceed $50,000?” is different from the one posed by other claims made by McCrory  and North Carolina Republicans : “did the 2016 Budget increase average teacher salaries above $50,000?” The first question – as correctly noted by WRAL – is dependent upon teacher turnover. While it is unlikely that average teacher salaries will exceed $50,000, we’ll find out the definitive answer to that question in December when the appropriate data is collected by the Department of Public Instruction. The second question, however, is one that can be answered now (and in the negative) via simple math:
- Every 1% increase in average teacher salaries costs $54.2 million
- The 2016 Budget provides $205.8 million for teacher pay increases
- That’s enough money to increase average salaries by 3.8%
- Average salary in FY 15-16 (including local supplements) was $47,931
- A 3.8% increase would bring average teacher salaries to $49,751
If average teacher salaries hit $50,000, there will be a hole in the budget of approximately $24 million . Based on this math, the Budget fails to provide for teacher salaries exceeding $50,000. Additionally, the failure to include funding sufficient to bring average teacher salaries above $50,000 puts to lie the notion that either the General Assembly or the Governor’s Office is actually anticipating that average teacher salaries will exceed $50,000. Their campaign ads say one thing, but their budget is saying another.
So will North Carolina’s average teacher salaries exceed $50,000? It’s certainly possible, but unlikely. For average teacher salaries to exceed $50,000, teacher turnover would need to be far lower than what has been observed in years’ past.
Does the 2016 Budget bill bring average teacher salaries above $50,000? Definitely not. The budget only provides enough funding to support an increase in average salaries to approximately $49,751. While this is close to $50,000, it is still below $50,000. If average salaries exceed $50,000, there will be a hole in the budget of approximately $24 million.
No matter where average salaries shake out, is still clear that North Carolina’s teacher salary levels fall well short of the levels required to recruit the best and the brightest into teaching. While North Carolina’s teacher salaries compare unfavorably to other states, the data is even more dire when teacher salaries are compared to other industries in North Carolina. Recent analysis from the Economic Policy Institute  indicates that North Carolina ranks 49th  in terms of teacher salary competitiveness. No matter where average teacher salaries shake out this year, it’s clear that there is still much more work to be done.
Back to school 2016: Profiling North Carolina public education system and its funding
– By Cedric Johnson, Policy Analyst at the N.C. Budget and Tax Center
It’s back to school time, and more than 1.5 million students are preparing to embark upon a new school year. Currently the 10th largest public school system in the nation, North Carolina has experienced steady growth in the number of students entering school doors in local communities across the state – enrolling more than 100,000 additional students over the past decade. This makes it more important than ever to increase investment in schools to ensure the growing number of students in North Carolina receive a high quality education.
The makeup of students in public schools has changed over time. Last school year, no single race or ethnic group represented a majority of North Carolina’s student enrollment—a reflection of the changing demographic trend in the state’s broader population. Furthermore, one of every two students in public schools qualified for free or reduced school meals, which indicates that a significant number of students reside in low- and moderate-income households and face persistent economic challenges.
One way to ensure that our schools have the resources to provide a quality education to all students, regardless of their socio-economic background, is through the state budget, which serves as an important source of education funding for our schools. For the upcoming school year, the state budget under which schools will operate is a mixed bag of incremental progress in some areas and persistent lagging support in other areas. For the 2016-17 school year, state funding per student remains 8.1 percent below 2008 pre-recession level, with more than 81,000 additional students enrolling in public schools during this time. Consequently, our schools are challenged with educating more and more students with fewer resources.
Lawmakers limited their ability to boost investment in public schools by passing costly tax cuts in recent years that largely benefit the wealthy and profitable corporations. The state’s ability to invest in public education will continue to be limited in the years ahead as the cost of the tax cuts grow larger. For the current fiscal year, these tax breaks reduce available revenue by $1.4 billion, dollars that otherwise would have been available to lawmakers to boost investments that promote student achievement. Once all tax changes are fully in place, this annual cost grows to more than $2 billion.
With limited available resources due to lop-sided tax cuts, lawmakers prioritized teacher pay raises in their budget for the upcoming school year—but these raises fall short because teacher pay continues to fall well behind those offered by other professions . The relatively modest additional dollars provided for certain areas of the public schools budget fall well short of meeting the standard of adequate funding. State funding per student for textbooks and digital resources remains more than 40 percent below pre-recession spending. For classroom material and instructional supplies, state funding per student remains more than 50 percent below pre-recession spending. Furthermore, far fewer teacher assistants are in classrooms compared to state-funded position prior to the recession. Accordingly, despite efforts to improve compensation, teachers will likely continue to leave the field due to poor classroom conditions.
Other investments that contribute to student achievement and success are simply missing from the state budget. Additional funding for school nurses to get the nurse-to-student ratio closer to the recommended national average is not included in the budget. Furthermore, dedicated funding for professional development for teachers and school leaders is absent from the budget Funding for teacher mentoring, which lawmakers eliminated in 2010, remains missing in the current budget. State funding for the NC Teaching Fellows, which lawmakers eliminated in recent years, was not restored. This program recruited and placed trained teachers in North Carolina classrooms.
The reality is that much more work remains to be done to ensure that our public schools have the resources needed to provide all students a quality education and that we are able to attract and retain quality teachers. This requires that we not short-change 1.5 million students by limiting our ability to investment in them as a result of too costly tax cuts for the wealthy and powerful.