N.C. teacher pay is still below U.S. average

Supporters recently called for a significant boost in teacher pay, noting “while salary may not be the strongest reason teachers choose to enter the profession, our research shows it is a key reason many talented people decide to avoid teaching.”

No, that wasn't the North Carolina Association of Educators talking. It was Australia's business leaders talking about how underpaid teachers are in that country. That's saying something, considering starting pay for graduates entering the profession was just over $50,000 there. But teacher salaries in Australia get less competitive as the years pass, resulting in many resignations eight to 10 years after graduates become teachers.

The same is true in North Carolina. Starting N.C. teacher salaries are less than $30,000 a year, and average teacher pay hovers around $45,000. Gov. Mike Easley has proposed a state budget that would boost teachers' pay by an average of 7 percent. That amount would bring the state's teacher salaries to the national average of $52,126, he said.

Last week, the NCAE was in Raleigh urging lawmakers to heed the governor's call for the salary increases though state House members unveiled a budget that offers less than half that amount. House leaders said there isn't enough money for the 7 percent raises.

Unfortunately, that's a popular refrain when it comes to paying the state's teachers an adequate wage. There's never quite enough money to do the job right. Last year, teachers got a 5 percent boost, the year before an 8 percent hike, and the year before that 4 percent. Those raises were part of the governor's plan in 2005 to get N.C. teachers' salaries above the national average by 2008-2009.

Lawmakers eagerly signed on to the idea. But now, as Gov. Easley is leaving office and the 2008-2009 school year is at hand, salaries remain well below the national average and even below the average of some other states in the Southeast.

The governor has proposed a 20-cent per pack cigarette tax hike and an increase in beer, wine and liquor taxes to give teachers a pay raise and increase spending on mental health programs. We don't know what's the best way to pay for the salary increases. But we do know they're worthwhile.

The Australian Council for Educational Research said Aussie teachers were key to unlocking the nation's economic and social potential but their contribution was undervalued.

It's undervalued here, too. As N.C. lawmakers debate teacher salary increases, they should remember that.