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Do Senate leaders believe their own claims on teacher pay?

Senate leaders made a big splash touting their two-year plan to raise teacher salaries. They held a packed press conference and launched, the strange website that – in exchange for handing your contact information over to the NC Republican Senatorial Committee – will let you view information on their plan.

For those who are unwilling to fork over your email address to Senate leader Phil Berger, please allow me to summarize: The Senate claims that by the 2017-18 school year, teacher salaries in North Carolina will average $54,224, an average salary that would propel our state ranking from 41st in the nation to 24th.

Are these claims accurate?

Let’s start with average salary. Will the average teacher salary reach $54,224 by the 2017-18 school year? The Senate proposal would indeed increase salaries for educators with up to 24 years of experience (more experienced teachers receive nothing under the plan). However, salaries will only reach $54,224 if there is zero teacher turnover and the average experience level of North Carolina’s teachers increases by two years. Ignoring teachers moving from one North Carolina school district to another, last year’s teacher turnover rate was 11.6%.

The Senate budget indicates that not even the Senate believes turnover will be zero. The Senate allots $280 million in Year One of its teacher salary plan. However, if there was no turnover and each teacher gained a year of teaching experience, their plan would actually cost $329 million. Unlike the claims Senator Berger made to the press, the budget makes the sensible assumption that there will be turnover, leaving average teacher experience levels approximately unchanged from year-to-year.

But let’s say that all teachers stick around for two years and average salaries actually increase to $54,224. Will North Carolina have the 24th highest teacher pay in the nation? Again, the claim rests on an absurd assumption. A $54,224 average teacher salary leads to a ranking of 24th only if every other state in the country keeps their average salaries unchanged over the next two years. Over the past ten years – a period that covers the Great Recession – teacher salaries across the nation have increased 1.7% per year. There is no reason to think salaries in other states will remain flat over the next two years.

In reality, the Senate teacher pay proposal is a reasonable first step towards making North Carolina’s teacher salaries competitive with other states and, more importantly, other professions.  The plan would accelerate teachers’ career earnings and ditches the misguided “experience tiers” that the Senate introduced in the 2014 budget. Most notably, the plan includes a significant non-election-year pay increase that would average approximately 6%, which compares favorably to the raises of 0%, 0%, and 2% provided by the Republican-controlled General Assembly in the past three non-election-year budgets.

So we must ask: do North Carolina’s Senate leaders believe their own claims on teacher pay? Do they believe that no teachers will leave the profession over the next two years? Do they believe that every other states’ average salary will remain flat over the next two years? Will any of them offer to resign if North Carolina’s teacher salary fails to reach 24th in the nation by 2017-18?

It’s time Senate leadership is asked these questions. A decent pay raise is the least North Carolina’s teachers deserve (ideally one that doesn’t leave out our most experienced teachers). For the rest of us, all we ask is for some honesty.

Editor’s Note: This article was published by NC Policy Watch on June 13, 2016. 

Kris Nordstrom

Kris Nordstrom is a Senior Policy Analyst with the Education & Law Project. Prior to starting work with the Justice Center in April 2016, he spent nine years with the North Carolina General Assembly’s nonpartisan Fiscal Research Division, where he provided budget analysis and information to all members of the General Assembly on public education issues. Nordstrom holds a Master of Public Policy from the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University and BA in Economics from Wake Forest University.