Politics & Government

NC says average teacher salary is $53,975. Public School Forum calls that a ‘myth.’

North Carolina says that the average teacher salary is $53,975. But a new report calls that figure misleading and a “myth,” with most teachers making less than that amount.

The report from the Public School Forum of North Carolina found that the average teacher salary in more than 80 percent of the state’s school districts fell below the reported state average of $53,975. The group says that the state average overstates what the typical North Carolina teacher is paid, potentially causing state leaders to become complacent about providing enough compensation to educators.

“When the public hears that the average teacher salary is $53,975, they think that the average teacher in their district makes that much when in fact that’s not true at all,” Keith Poston, president of the Public School Forum, said in an interview. “That creates issues. We need the public to understand what the real needs are in education.”

The report, “North Carolina’s Average Teacher Pay Myth,” comes at a time when state Republican legislative leaders have promoted how North Carolina has risen from 47th in the nation in average teacher pay in 2013 to 29th this year, according to the National Education Association. The NEA puts the national average teacher salary at $61,782.

State House Republican leaders say their budget would raise the average annual salary to $55,600 over the next two years. Senate GOP leaders say their plan would raise the average to around $54,500.

Republican lawmakers have accused the Public School Forum of only questioning the validity of the average pay figure to attack the GOP. The state Department of Public Instruction has used the same method for calculating average teacher pay since 2002.

“For years, far-left activist groups like the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) and the Public School Forum have used North Carolina’s average teacher salary ranking to attack Republicans,” Sen. Deanna Ballard, a Watauga County Republican and co-chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said in a news release. “But now that Republicans have increased average teacher pay, the phony organizations are saying the metric is no longer valid.”

Poston denied that the new report, which was released in May, was meant to attack Republican lawmakers. He said the report was the result of being able to take a more detailed look at how teacher salaries vary across districts thanks to the state’s new school financial transparency website, www.schoolfinance.nc.gov, that was launched in April.

First, the Public School Forum says the state average is inflated in that it only includes state-funded teachers. The report says that districts use state dollars to pay for their most experienced and highest-paid teachers while using local and federal dollars to cover lower-paid teachers.

The report said that the state average is further inflated because it includes bonuses and other funds that many teachers don’t receive. This includes performance bonuses and annual leave pay that goes to teachers who are retiring or leaving the profession.

The state total also includes an average figure of $4,850 for locally funded salary supplements that counties provide in addition to what the state pays. But the report says that 87 percent of the state’s 115 school districts offer average supplements lower than $4,850.

“We’ve been hearing from teachers for so many years that the average teacher pay doesn’t reflect what I get paid,” Poston said. “Those comments usually came from districts outside of Charlotte and Raleigh.”

The report found that average teacher salaries varied by as much $10,000 between districts. This means for instance, Poston said, that Wake County can “poach” teachers from Vance County, which is 40 miles away and has an average salary of about $8,000 less than Wake.

“I don’t blame Wake or CMS for raising their supplements to recruit teachers,” Poston said. “They’re doing what they have to do. But it’s not a sustainable model to make sure that all children regardless of their ZIP code get an adequate education.

“The rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer. It’s based on a fundamentally flawed school funding system.”

Poston said it’s good that the average teacher salary in the state has risen. But he says state leaders need to do more to address disparities between affluent and poor school districts.

Mark Jewell, president of NCAE, said the Public School Forum’s report “is definitely on point.” For instance, he said the state average is inflated by experienced teachers who were grandfathered in when the state abolished providing extra pay for educators who have advanced degrees.

“If you talk with most educators that work in these school districts, most of our educators are not nearly making around the average,” Jewell said in an interview. “It takes a few salaries thrown into the mix to skew our average teacher pay.”

Terry Stoops, vice president of research for the John Locke Foundation, says he agrees that the average teacher salary is misleading. But he questions why critics didn’t make more of an issue of its accuracy before Republicans began raising the state average.

“The fact that the average is influenced by factors such as the experience of teachers and the credentials that they possess is one of the reasons why the average is a misleading figure to use when discussing teacher compensation,” Stoops said. “But the problems preceded the Republicans.”

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.
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