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Figures show funds still lag for schools, teacher pay

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Felicia Martin, left, and Jennifer Counterman participate in reflective conversation, during a teacher training workshop at the Pitt County Schools Facilities Building in Winterville Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018.

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By Brian Wudkwych
The Daily Reflector

Monday, April 30, 2018

Though the average teacher salary in North Carolina continues to inch upward, more than a decade worth of trends have left some local educators less than content with the improvements. 

The National Education Association recently released figures showing that North Carolina improved to 39th in the state in 2016-17, up from 41st the year before. Additionally, the association estimates that the state will rank 37th in pay this year at $50,861. 

Though any improvement is good, South Central history teacher Nicki Griffin, who has been teaching for 27 years, said the state should set the bar higher. 

“It’s definitely better to be 37th than 39th, but I’m not sure that shooting for the bottom of the pack is what we should be doing as a state,” Griffin said. “As a veteran teacher that has watched this happen, I’m concerned that after so many years of not having any improvement in salary, that the small increments that are being made now seem more beneficial than they are.” 

Griffin’s assessment is not without standing, either. When adjusted for inflation, the National Education Association estimates that North Carolina teachers have seen their pay drop by 11.3 percent in the past 15 years.

That is worse than the nation as a whole and even in West Virginia, where teachers held a successful strike for a 5 percent raise in March. As it stands, a North Carolina teacher today makes more than $5,000 less on average than in 2003, the association reports. 

Per pupil funding has followed a similar trajectory, falling from $6,716 in 2008-09 to $6,115 in 2016-17. Right now, North Carolina, which provides 59 percent of funding for districts, is estimated to be 39th in spending. Public Schools First NC, a nonprofit, attributes the declines to the recession and is quick to note that the student population has increased by almost 67,000 since. 

The amount provided to per-pupil funding by the legislature through the state’s general fund — the rest comes from lottery money and other sources — has fallen from $6,300 in 2007-08 to $5,616 in 2016-17. 

Griffin said the state should shoot for joining the top half of the country in both teacher pay and per-pupil spending, something that would be the result of more funds allocated by the state. Those two components should go hand-in-hand, she said, noting that too often she and fellow teachers have to provide out-of-pocket for classroom material that should be standard. 

“Teachers of course would like to be compensated for the professional work that we do,” Griffin said. “But at the time same I think all of us feel the difficulty of not having useful textbooks or the per pupil spending that is not measured in teacher salary.”

The state’s General Assembly reconvenes May 16 and some teachers around the state have expressed a desire to take part in demonstrations in Raleigh. Griffin said she knows of a few teachers locally who plan to go to the state’s capital to support the demonstrations.  

The office of Tim Moore, speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, released numbers from the fiscal research division of the General Assembly last week that highlighted improvements regarding teacher pay.  

Numbers from the National Education Association show that North Carolina has the second fastest rising teacher pay in the country while a 6.5 percent increase is scheduled for the 2018 state budget, marking the fifth consecutive year of pay raises, Moore’s office reported.

Pitt County Board of Education member Robert Moore echoed Griffin’s sentiment on teacher pay and used other states where teachers have demonstrated for better funding as a driving force behind what he thinks could be going through the minds of the General Assembly’s members. 

“I think based on what has happened in other states, there will be a push to make sure that teacher pay is increased,” Moore said. 

Contact Brian Wudkwych at bwudkwych@reflector.com or 252-329-9567 and follow @brianwudkwych on Twitter.

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