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Video: Lee County school teacher Sandi Shover is one of many educators to speak out about budget cuts to education and how it affects teachers.

North Carolina is climbing the national rankings on average teacher pay, jumping over $50,000 for the first time. But a new report puts the state 37th in the U.S. and $9,600 below the national average.

North Carolina's average teacher salary this school year is estimated to be $50,861 by the National Education Association, up from $49,970 last school year, according to new figures released Monday. The NEA estimates that the average salary for a U.S. teacher is $60,483.

The new average salary helped raise North Carolina's estimated national ranking by two spots to 37th. The NEA had initially estimated that the state ranked 35th last school year, but final figures released in the new report said North Carolina was actually 39th.

In addition to teacher pay, the NEA report estimates that North Carolina is ranked 39th in the nation this school year in spending per student at $9,528 per child. The national average is estimated at $11,934.

Video: Jasmine Lauer, an English teacher, spends up to $200 per semester on school supplies. Parents and teachers in North Carolina are paying for school supplies with their own money because schools' allotment per student is not enough.

“Our students deserve public schools that have the resources they need to be successful and educators who are respected like the professionals they are,” Mark Jewell, president of the N.C. Association of Educators, the state affiliate of the NEA, said in a written statement Monday. “Instead of prioritizing corporate boardrooms, our elected leaders should be making critical investments in our classrooms.”

But Terry Stoops, vice president of the conservative John Locke Foundation, says that the state's rank rises to 29th in the nation when adjusted for cost of living.

The NEA teacher rankings have been used as a measuring stick for legislators and education groups to gauge the adequacy of teacher pay.

The $50,000 benchmark has been a major symbolic milestone, with the Republican-led state legislature passing several raises in recent years after the recession had dropped North Carolina to 45th in the NEA rankings in 2011. But Democrats have complained that teacher pay hasn't risen enough, especially for highly experienced teachers.

According to the NEA report, the average teacher salary in North Carolina has risen 5 percent since 2009 but, when adjusted for inflation, the amount has dropped 9.4 percent.

"If the legislature would adopt Governor Cooper’s teacher pay proposals, then North Carolina could get to at least the national average a lot faster," said Ford Porter, a spokesman for Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, in a written statement. "We cannot accept this ranking because teachers must have professional pay, and students must have well qualified teachers."

Republican lawmakers have made fundamental changes to the way K-12 education is provided in North Carolina since taking control of the legislature in 2011.

But Shelly Carver, a spokeswoman for Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican from Rockingham County, countered by pointing to Cooper's veto of last year's state budget that was later overridden. While the budget had teacher raises, Cooper said the legislature's income tax cuts put the state at financial risk.

"Gov. Cooper’s hypocrisy knows no bounds — he vetoed an average 9.6 percent pay increase for teachers just last year and now claims he supports teacher pay raises," Carver said.

The NEA figure is slightly lower than the $51,214 figure cited earlier this year in a report by the state Department of Public Instruction.

The state can’t take complete credit for teachers eclipsing the $50,000 mark, because many school districts supplement the state base salary. This year, the average local supplement was $4,337.

Teacher pay and education spending are expected to be major issues during this year's session of the state legislature.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui
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