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An election year push for teacher/principal pay increases

The House Education Appropriations Committee invited public input last Thursday on the state’s education budget, and education organizations turned out to highlight their priorities — teacher and principal pay.

While many of the organizations had other priorities on their wish lists as well, again and again improving compensation for educators and school leaders was a recurring theme.

Rodney Ellis, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, pointed out to lawmakers that North Carolina ranks 46th in the nation for per-pupil spending and 42nd for teacher pay.

“If some of our basketball teams in this state were ranked 42nd and 46th in the country, a state of emergency would be declared,” he said.

Here are Ellis’ comments:

Leanne Winner, director of governmental relations of the North Carolina School Boards Association, said that inflation was high for five out of the last six years and teachers are struggling.

“While we appreciate the overall significant percentage increase two years ago, our school districts are struggling to find enough teachers to fill our classrooms with qualified, effective teachers,” she said.

Between the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years, the General Assembly passed an average 7 percent raise for state teachers, which was heavily skewed toward beginning educators. Last session, it increased the minimum salary for teachers to $35,000.

Here are Winner’s comments:

Some state teachers felt the increase left veteran teachers out in the cold, but Brenda Berg, president and CEO of BEST NC, a coalition of business leaders, said higher pay is essential for younger teachers.

“While we believe the entire salary schedule should have a cost of living increase…we encourage you to make the largest commitment in the early career teachers,” she said.

She gave three reasons for her request. One, the most turnover occurs among beginning teachers. Two, higher salaries in that cohort will attract talent. And three, it will enable beginning teachers to earn more money faster to support their families.

Matt Ellinwood, the director of the Education and Law Project at the North Carolina Justice Center, presented lawmakers with a collection of statistics on teacher pay. Since 1999, he said teacher compensation has dropped 13.5 percent when accounting for inflation. Ellinwood continued, saying it would take 10 years, with a 5 percent increase each year, to reach the national average for teacher salaries. However, if teachers received a 10 percent increase each year, they could reach the national average in three years, he concluded.

“This is really a critical moment for North Carolina’s teachers,” he said.

Here are Ellinwood’s comments:

Principal pay was also a hot topic among the education organizations speaking before the committee.

It started with Winner, who said that serious work needs to be done on principal compensation.

“NC principal pay ranks 50th in the country,” she said. “We ask that you begin to address the salary issue this session and continue potentially with a study commission.”

The call for better principal compensation continued with Adam Pridemore, government relations specialist at the North Carolina Association of School Administrators. He pointed out that the changes to the teacher salary schedule two years ago created a situation where, in some cases, teachers are able to make more than the administrators who oversee them. We covered this and other problems with the principal salary schedule extensively in this article.

“Principals and assistant principals need to be valued and supported with adequate pay increases that reflect the immense responsibility and accountability they have for the achievement of the school’s students,” Pridemore said.

He also pointed out that 42 percent of the state’s principals are languishing on the first step of the state salary schedule. He suggested that principals and assistant principals should get at least the same average salary increase as teachers, and that prior to the 2017 General Assembly session, a study commission should be formed to investigate administrator compensation.

Here are Pridemore’s comments:

Berg also touched on the importance of principals, saying that lawmakers should be as aggressive on principal and assistant principal pay as they are on teacher pay. She also encouraged lawmakers to study principal compensation.

“If there is one best way to address low performing schools, it is to ensure that we have a world class principal in every school in our state,” she said.

Here are Berg’s comments:


Alex Granados

Alex Granados was the senior reporter for EducationNC from December 2014-March 2023.