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N.C. gubernatorial candidates war over words regarding teacher pay

In Roy Cooper’s latest TV ad, a teacher identified as Adelle B. from Durham County explains the hardship she and other teachers have encountered due to low teacher pay under Gov. Pat McCrory.

But in McCrory’s ad, the smiling candidate said teachers will receive a pay raise in 2017, with the average teacher making over $50,000 a year.

The candidates have made teacher pay a central issue in their campaigns. McCrory has touted his record of raising teacher pay in the state.

“After he took office, Gov. McCrory passed the largest teacher pay raise in the country and raised it every year since,” said McCrory campaign spokesperson Ricky Diaz in a statement.

Cooper sees North Carolina’s low ranking in teacher pay—41st in the nation according to a National Education Association report—as a weakness for McCrory, said Kris Nordstrom, an education policy consultant at the N.C. Justice Center.

“While McCrory’s hanging his hat on teacher pay, it’s really not much of a record to be proud of,” he said.

Republicans have a perception problem when it comes to public education, said Bob Luebke, senior policy analyst at the right-leaning Civitas Institute.

He said Democrats are seen as more supportive of education—even though the Democrat-controlled N.C. General Assembly cut over $1 billion from education budgets from 2009-11.

“The press has pretty much given Democrats a free ride on saying no to teacher pay raises,” Luebke said.

Meanwhile, Republicans have increased teacher pay three of the four years McCrory has been in office.

North Carolina’s national ranking in teacher pay is deceiving, said Terry Stoops, the director of education studies at the conservative John Locke Foundation.

When adjusted for cost of living, he said, North Carolina would rank 33rd in the nation.

Nordstrom also said North Carolina’s ranking is deceiving—but it should be worse, not better.

He prefers a ranking published by the Economic Policy Institute, which compares teachers’ salaries with those of other college-educated professionals. In that study, North Carolina placed 49th in the nation, including the District of Columbia.

“It’s important to have good teachers, and obviously teacher pay is an important factor in getting high quality teachers into the classroom and keeping them there,” he said.

Teacher pay in North Carolina was around the national average under former Gov. Jim Hunt, said Eric Houck, a professor at the UNC School of Education. But since then, the state’s national ranking has plummeted.

“Not all of that is the McCrory administration’s fault, but it’s a very painful reality for teachers,” Houck said.

And while teacher pay has increased on average, Nordstrom said the General Assembly has underfunded budgets for supplies, professional development and textbooks— all while spending per student has decreased and class sizes have increased.

The focus on education by both campaigns will give the elected candidate authority to act on the issue, said Stoops.

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“It would be a symbolic victory for whoever comes out on top to proclaim that they are the education governor that’s going to spear substantive changes in the way we fund education or pay teachers,” he said.