The North Carolina Public School Forum released its Top Education Issues for 2023 on Jan. 31. Ensuring fair and competitive compensation for educators is at the top of the list.
According to the Public School Forum’s report, teachers in North Carolina have one of the largest pay penalties in the nation, earning around 24.5 percent less than similarly-educated peers.
The Public School Forum is calling for an increase in base pay for North Carolina teachers equal to this deficit in order to reach the national average and to have teacher pay come closer to the state’s approximate living wage.
N.C. Sen. Graig Meyer (D-Caswell, Orange, Person) said a 24.5 percent increase is much higher than he can remember any other organization asking for in recent years.
“There are many things you need to do to educate children well, but the very first one is you have to put a qualified teacher in front of them,” Meyer said. “I think that the Public School Forum, when they call for a raise of this level, are changing the terms of debate in a way that I think is exciting.”
Lauren Fox, senior director for policy and research at the Public School Forum, said such an increase would only bring North Carolina teacher salaries to approximately the national average. She said it shouldn’t be talked about as an “extreme” measure.
“What's extreme is how little we're paying teachers right now,” Fox said.
Fox said she believes the small amount of money teachers are paying shouldn't be normalized — the fact that they have to work two and three jobs is "extreme."
Eugenia Floyd works as an equity specialist for instructional equity in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and as an advisor to the Public School Forum.
Before she entered these roles, she served as a teacher's assistant in the district for four years, taught for eight and was named the 2021 Burroughs Wellcome Fund North Carolina Teacher of the Year.
Floyd said since she started teaching for CHCCS, she has lived outside of the district because her goal of owning a home and creating generational wealth was more achievable in a neighboring county.
“I think, ideally, we would love for our folks that work within our school district to be able to be actively involved within the community as well as the school,” she said. “I think that having that, it also really helps to solidify those really strong relationships between our community and the schools.”
Floyd also said she is concerned that people will be interested in pursuing a career requiring various certifications while failing to cover basic needs.
She said many educators are a single devastating event away from poverty, though everyone talks about how education is a gateway out of poverty. Situations such as flat tires, news of a difficult medical diagnosis and other things can throw her off track.
Fox said without a dramatic increase in teacher compensation, she fears teacher vacancies and attrition rates will continue to worsen.
“I'm talking to teachers on a regular basis — teachers that never thought they would leave the classroom who are feeling like they don't have any other options,” she said. “It's really devastating, and my fear is that we'll get to the point where it's really hard to rebuild. And I don't want us to get to that point before acting.”
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