RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Teaching has been synonymous for decades with low pay.
Just how low? A new website helps educators put a specific dollar amount on it.
The site created by a teacher at Green Hope High School in Cary and a computer programmer in Wake Forest calculates what they have termed the “teacher tax.”
In a nutshell, it’s how much in inflation-adjusted total wages a teacher has lost over time, compared to the buying power that person would have had at the salary schedule that was in place when he or she started teaching.
“Even when they say it’s a raise, it’s still not fulfilling what I thought I signed up for when I first joined North Carolina classrooms in 2007,” said Kimberly Mackey, who teaches civics and economics at Green Hope.
The site is even more significant and timely now, with teacher pay a top-of-mind issue and Gov. Roy Cooper’s new budget proposal calling for 10 percent raises on average in the 2023 fiscal year and another 6 percent next year, along with setting the minimum starting salary at $46,000.
Here’s how the website works.
The user selects the year he or she started teaching, picks whether to compare the dollar figure to either the earliest available pay schedule or the 2007-08 school year — what Mackey and programmer Derek Scott call the “high-water mark” for purchasing power — and can choose to run those numbers through the present or to project them through 2030.
For example, someone who started teaching in 2000-01 would have been scheduled to receive a total of $781,045 in earnings since then but would have received just $698,302 — in other words, paying an effective “tax” of $82,743.
Those numbers are pulled directly from public documents — the teacher salary schedules published in the state appropriations acts, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator.
“From my perspective, the teacher tax is when we adjust the salary schedule and don’t fulfill those promises,” said Derek Scott, the programmer who built the site. “Then the teachers themselves pay the biggest tax, but everyone else pays the tax in terms of who even wants to become a teacher in the first place?”
The issue stems from lawmakers deciding five years ago to remove annual raises for teachers who had been working for between 15 and 24 years. That came as they increased pay for younger teachers, helping them reach the $50,000 annual salary threshold after 15 years.
Both Mackey and Scott say some trends in the data became obvious to them.
Scott pointed to occasional raises in teacher pay through the years that “looks like a very large raise in the year that it’s presented” but does not make up for the other years without pay increases.
Mackey says the teacher salary schedule used to resemble a straight line that steadily increased — but now is “not only lower, but it plateaus midway” with veterans seeing the largest gap.
Mackey says her gap is roughly $84,000, and “is only set to get larger.”
“And what that tells me is the state doesn’t want folks like me who has experience to remain in the classroom,” she said. “They’re hoping that by 15 years I start getting the hint that maybe I shouldn’t stick around a full 30 years.”
The site does have a few limitations: It does not include any extra pay a teacher might receive for earning a master’s or doctoral degree, although it does instruct teachers grandfathered into those supplements to add 10 percent.
“The number it spits out is the minimum people were owed, and it would be safe for them to assume that it would be higher, given other supplements attached to that base,” Mackey said.
The website includes ways to create images with your dollar amount that can be shared on social media and with elected officials.
“It can also help parents understand why their kid may not have a teacher leading their classroom or why someone who doesn’t have previous teaching experience or a license yet is leading their classroom,” Mackey said. “So it can really answer a lot of questions parents may have about the staffing challenges we’re facing.”