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Do teachers make $50,000?

Before serving in the General Assembly, I worked in public schools for 16 years. My wife is a career teacher. Both of us talk with teachers every day. Over the last few weeks, we have been asked again and again about one of this year’s hottest political topics…

Do people actually think the average North Carolina teacher makes or will make $50,000?

Teachers are having a hard time buying it.

Last Friday, my wife invited me to her school, and I set out to see just how many teachers I could find who are making that amount. What I found was a lot more teachers working second jobs than those making $50,000.

The teachers I talked to at this school were uniformly unhappy about teacher pay overall and skeptical of the idea that the average teacher pay is $50,000, even in a district like Durham with a generous local supplement.

I was able to interview one teacher making more than $50,000 for the video. However, she points out that is because she has a master’s degree and National Board Certification. She’s not willing to give much credit to Gov. McCrory for those two pay boosters. She paid for both out of her own pocket, and she qualified for both well before the current Governor was in office. Indeed, during Governor McCrory’s term North Carolina has restricted the ability to receive a pay raise for having a master’s degree.

In an effort to be transparent, I will add that although my wife didn’t want to be on video, she will make more than $50,000 for the first time this year. It’s her 20th year of teaching overall and 18th in North Carolina. Also, I haven’t checked the teachers salaries in this video to know exactly what they make. All of which is to say, I’m not disputing that there are teachers who make $50,000.

It’s difficult to dispute the Governor’s claim about average teacher pay, but it’s also difficult to confirm. We won’t know the average teacher salary until December, which is conveniently after the election. That’s part of the reason the Governor’s claim got a “yellow light” in WRAL’s fact check.

The larger message that teachers seem to be sending is that their pay is nothing to celebrate. The video seems to have struck a chord as it has been viewed over 250,000 times in just over 48 hours.

Here are some of the comments…

Carolyn Evans Williams of North Topsail Beach posted “We did this at lunch on Tuesday. We have a certified staff of at least 52. We could come up with 4. All with 20 years, National Boards, and a Masters.”

Marisha Washington of New Bern gave this analysis that reflects a number of common concerns:

“I don’t think anyone is denying that we have gotten raises under the McCrory administration. I am now in my 5th year of teaching and have gotten a little raise almost every year of my career. The issues that most people have with pay are that (1) most of it is going to beginning teachers, which creates the image that they are more valuable than veteran teachers who have put in the time and have advanced degrees that are very valuable in contributing to the education of our youth, (2) veteran teachers’ longevity pay was taken away to create the image that they were a part of the raises that were granted when in reality they were NOT, and (3) the General Assembly seems to be including local supplements in their claims of the state average teacher salary […], which is misleading.”

Indeed, this year’s pay raise was also misleading. As I described in a column earlier this summer, the average 4.7 percent raise is a smaller bump in take home pay because it replaces last year’s $750 bonus. Some teachers who get no pay raise in this year’s budget have a cut in take home pay since that bonus was not permanent.

North Carolina needs a plan for dramatically increasing teacher pay in a short period of time.

That will take political courage and vision.

And, even though it’s a political issue in this election season, it will take bipartisan cooperation in coming years. After we’re done with this year’s tug-of-war, I hope we can find some common ground.

Rep. Graig Meyer

Representative Graig Meyer (D-Orange) represents House District 50, including Orange and Caswell counties, and is currently serving his fourth term. Rep. Meyer is an educator and a social worker who consults with public schools on creating equitable learning environments.