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The facts on GOP education spending, teacher pay hikes

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By Holly Audette
Columnist

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Today’s column focuses on education spending. I wrote a column on the subject in October 2016, and much of this research comes from that column.

Education is always a primary consideration in elections as political parties jockey for position, either on offense or defense, to put their best face forward on the topic. Claiming the mantle of championing education resonates with many and North Carolina politicians are very aware of this. The education lobby works diligently to convince education voters there is no such thing as a worthy Republican. Talking points are rolled out making Democrats the heroes and Republicans the villains.

North Carolina’s teacher pay declined more than any other state’s between 2002 and 2012. Both parties held majorities at times during these years when our average teacher pay fell behind a dramatic 15.7 percent. After confronting the challenges in the overall state economy, including a huge debt owed to the federal government, and skyrocketing costs for Medicaid, the Republicans focused on a plan to point education and its funding in a positive direction. North Carolina led the nation with the largest increase to teacher pay, 6.2 percent, in 2013-14 and 2014-15. With the value of teachers’ benefits estimated at $14,500 annually the state is again moving forward. Under Republican leadership as of 2016, K-12 funding has increased 12 percent and per-pupil spending is the highest since 2011. North Carolina ranks ninth in the nation in state-level funding of education with over 60 percent of the entire state budget committed to education funding. North Carolina’s high school graduation rate has reached an all-time high of over 85 percent.

So has the Republican-led government really given raises to every teacher? In 2016, I requested three years of gross salary data from school systems in northeastern North Carolina for every single teacher. I was determined to take this story wherever the facts brought me. I am not answering whether enough is spent on education — I’m simply answering whether what is claimed by those with a vested interest in persuading you one way or the other is true.

I reviewed the data from Currituck, Camden, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Gates and Chowan counties. I was inspired to invest these many hours after reading an account by a teacher who said she only received a $50 raise per paycheck and made “nowhere near” $50,000 after 18 years of teaching. I contacted her and offered to profile her story, even anonymously, but she declined. I reviewed well over 1,300 salaries of those employed for the last three years by the reporting school systems and who remained in the same teaching position. Every single teacher received a raise to their state-funded gross pay. Every one. Some teachers did not renew their board certifications, or changed assignments; some became part-time instead of full-time or took leave. Some didn’t finish a full contract and these factors did affect their pay.

Perquimans provided data for 160 teachers, 25 of whom made over $50,000 and 70 of whom made less than $45,000. Camden’s 145 teachers included 39 making more than $50,000 and 69 making less than $45,000. The 131 teachers from Gates included 33 making over $50,000 and 52 making less than $45,000. Pasquotank provided data for 575 teachers, with 65 making over $50,000 and 200 making under $45,000. As for the teacher on social media? Her own data showed she had a pay raise of almost $150 per paycheck in one year, a base annual salary of $45,250, a local supplement of 8 percent, earning her $48,870. If she chose to be board-certified she would earn $54,734.40.

Since I wrote this, teacher pay increases in the 2017 and 2018 budgets are 3.3 percent and 6.2 percent, respectively. The average teacher pay in North Carolina today is $53, 600. Since 2013 teachers have had an average 19 percent increase in their pay. There have been five consecutive years of pay raises for teachers, and 44,647 teachers have received at least $10,000 in pay increases under Republican leadership. Since 2010, when Republicans took control of the legislature and increased education spending ever year since, over $2 billion more has been spent or budgeted every year on K-12 education.

Holly Audette is a small-business owner active in political and civic causes.

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