RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — One of the biggest issues in the multiple versions of the state budget currently under consideration focuses on just how much more money public K-12 teachers should receive.

Those proposed raises range from 4.5 percent to 18 percent over two years — but will any of those options make a dent in North Carolina’s low ranking for teacher pay compared to other states?

THE CLAIM: North Carolina teachers make about $12,000 a year below the national average, with a state average of $54,863 putting us 36th nationally, according to the National Education Association.

THE FACTS: That number — which covers the 2021-22 school year — is legitimate, even though it differs slightly from other calculations, experts say.

“Unfortunately, I think they paint the picture of what happens here in North Carolina,” said Mary Ann Wolf, the president of the Public School Forum of N.C., a group that advocates for the state’s public K-12 schools.

Added Charles Clotfelter, a professor of public policy studies at Duke University and an education economics expert: “If you asked me whether it’s credible that North Carolina’s lost relative to other states, it would appear to be. And there’s no prospect on the immediate horizon for improving that, given the kinds of numbers that I’ve been reading about.”

A budget released in March by the state Department of Public Instruction pegs the average teacher pay at $57,805, though teachers have questioned whether that figure overstates the reality of the situation.

Of a greater concern is how far both of those numbers lag behind the national average, Wolf said.

“We’re very consistently in that same spot of around $12,000 below the national average in recent years,” she said.

That national average is $66,745, according to NEA data.

And she’s right: A previous CBS 17 Fact Check of the NEA’s numbers two years ago put the state at No. 33 with an average salary of $54,150 for the 2019-20 school year — which was about $10,000 lower than the national average that year.

The NEA put North Carolina at No. 39 in last year’s rankings with an average salary of $53,458.

The three budget proposals — two in the General Assembly, one from Gov. Roy Cooper — would increase those salaries by varying rates over the next two years:

— 18 percent under Cooper’s plan.

— 10 percent under the House proposal.

— 4.5 percent under the Senate plan that passed last week.

But even the most generous of those three proposals would leave the average salary in North Carolina well behind the national average — and that also makes the highly unlikely assumption that the national figure doesn’t climb any higher.

Increasing the current average salary by 18 percent would push it up to $63,080 — still about $3,000 shy of the national average.

That’s why Wolf says her organization recommended those raises be 24.5 percent.

“It actually would get people to the national average, or right below it, and we think that matters,” Wolf said. “We’re attracting businesses and people here to North Carolina from all over. We need to at least be at the national average, especially when you look at the whole pay scale and what’s possible.”

Incidentally, if the other 49 states’ averages hold steady, that figure would only push North Carolina to No. 19 in the national rankings.

The Senate proposal would increase the state’s average to $57,332 — which would leave us at No. 32.

The bigger question, of course, is this: How did North Carolina reach the point where teacher pay was stuck in the bottom half — or worse — nationally?

Clotfelter says the blame should go to the General Assembly and what he described as “a fairly clear-eyed indifference to relative pay for teachers.”


ANOTHER CLAIM: The median pay of teachers is almost $20,000 lower than the median worker with an advanced degree despite most teachers having earned a master’s degree, according to a tweet from the Working Families Party.

THE FACTS: They’re comparing two different things.

Those numbers came from a report from USAFacts, a nonprofit data website founded by former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

National Center for Education Statistics data show that says 58 percent of public K-12 teachers hold at least a master’s degree.

So far, so good. But then it goes on to compare median salaries for all earners by education level to median teacher salaries without breaking out the pay rates for teachers at those various educational levels. 

So it doesn’t tell us the most pertinent number — how much more a teacher with a master’s degree makes than one with just a bachelor’s.

It says the median elementary or middle school teacher made $61,740 in 2021 and a median secondary school teacher made $62,370. Both figures are comparable to an earner with a bachelor’s degree, who made $61,073.

An earner with an advanced degree that year made $80,077.