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Pay teachers like our future depends on it

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  • Average teacher pay in Southeast

    (2011-12 school year)

    Georgia $52,938

    Louisiana $50,179

    Kentucky $49,730

    Virginia $48,703

    Alabama $48,003

    South Carolina $47,428

    Tennessee $47,082

    Florida $46,479

    Arkansas $46,314

    North Carolina $45,933

    West Virginia $45,320

    Mississippi $41,646



For 10 years, North Carolina has been getting passed on teacher pay like a stock car with a flat tire. Next will be economic engine failure unless the legislature clues in quickly.

When Gov. Jim Hunt pushed to change things in 1997, North Carolina ranked 43rd on teacher pay. Hunt got the Excellent Schools Act passed, and North Carolina steadily bounced up the rankings – into the 30s, then 26th, then 23rd, then 21st. Within four years, North Carolina’s average teacher salary had climbed to $41,496, less than $2,000 below the national average.

Things have about flat-lined in the decade-plus since. And North Carolina’s teachers keep getting leapfrogged. By Virginia. And Florida. And South Carolina. And Tennessee. And Kentucky and Arkansas and Alabama, for crying out loud.

North Carolina now ranks 46th in the nation, the state Board of Education was told last week. Our teachers can land a pay hike of nearly 25 percent, on average, by leaving the state. N.C. teachers with five years of experience made $35,380 in 2009. Now they make $31,220, a $4,000 annual cut – even as teacher salaries have climbed around the nation.

The state ranks dead last on pay hikes over the past 10 years; every state in the Southeast raised pay at double or triple the rate North Carolina has.

No one goes into K-12 teaching to get rich. And most teachers can tick off a half-dozen things about their job they value at least as much.

But pay matters. If a teacher can make $7,000 more just by moving to Georgia, North Carolina will have a hard time recruiting and keeping the best teachers.

Research – and the personal experience of all you parents out there – confirms that the quality of a teacher has tremendous impact on a student’s academic achievement. In an era of demands for public spending austerity, little can rival outstanding teachers as a wise investment.

North Carolina should strive to recruit the nation’s best, put them in a system where they can thrive and then reward the strongest. Pay is not the only component to any of that, but it’s an important one.

Legislators are considering a number of ways to reform teacher pay. We agree that performance should play a bigger role, and legislators need to work with educators to devise a fair measurement system. Any approach, though, must recognize our state’s poor national standing. As the world shrinks and the competition intensifies, North Carolina’s 1.5 million public school students need the nation’s most effective teachers, with pay that recognizes them as such.

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