Educating the next generation is one of the most important responsibilities of state government. For the last decade critics of the Republican education policies claim the General Assembly has reneged on its commitment to public education.
Are the critics correct ?
A review of K-12 spending trends, teacher pay, and benefits can help assess the validity of these claims.
NC Education Spending : Overall Spending
Critics have complained that the public schools have been underfunded and Republicans are dismantling public education. A quick review reveals that after a two-year downturn from 2009-10 and 2010-11, the year Republicans took control of both chambers of the General Assembly, spending for K-12 education has increased – nine years in a row. It’s hard to fit those facts into an argument about dismantling public education.
NC Education Spending: Per Pupil Spending
- A review of inflation-adusted expenditures (orange line) shows per pupil expenditures peaked in 2008-09 ($10,382) and declined for five years, in part because of the aftermath of the Great Recession. However, beginning in 2014-15, real per pupil expenditures have increased for five years and now stand at $9,865.
- Real per pupil expenditures are up 7.7 percent since 2013-14 and real per pupil expenditure levels are 95 percent of their pre-recession high of $10,382 (inflation-adjusted figure) in 2009.
- Since, 2010-11, enrollment in traditional public schools has actually declined, by a little over 1,000 students – a decline of seven one-thousandths of one percent. The decline is traceable to a slowing of population growth and the growing popularity of charter, private and home schooling options. The stable or declining enrollment numbers have also helped maintain the he per pupil expenditure levels.
Teacher pay has been a never-ending issue in North Carolina. How has North Carolina teacher pay fared relative to previous years and other states?
- Over the last decade, average teacher salaries in North Carolina have increased from $47,086 to $54,682.
- Since 2010, teachers have received combined percentage increases totalling 26 percent, or an average annual raise of 2.3 percent.
- North Carolina has significantly improved its ranking among states in the last half of this decade; after falling as far as 47th (2014), the state rebounded to as high as 30th in both 2019 and 2020.
- Among the 12 states of the SE, North Carolina has rebounded back to its 2010 ranking (2nd). In 2015 North Carolina’s ranking fell to 11th. Since then, North Carolina’s ranking among SE states has climbed to 2nd (2020) .
- During his time in office, Gov. Roy Cooper has vetoed four teacher pay raises. Had they been approved, average teacher pay in North Carolina would certainly be higher than current levels.
Conspicously absent from the ongoing discussion over teacher pay, is employee benefits. In 2018-19 almost a quarter (23 percent) of all expenditures in 2018-19 were for employee beneifts, the second largest expenditure category behind salaries.
- While social security costs (7.65 percent of earnings) have remained constant, the cost of health insurance benefits has risen 40 percent over the last decade.
- Even more important, during the period 2010 to 2010, employer contribuions to help fund retirement benefits haverisen signficantly, from 8.75 percent (2010) to 19.7 percent (2020).
- Lastly, employee beneftis as a percentage of average salary continues to climb, increasing from 25.9 percent (2010) to 38.8 percent (2020).
What Have We Learned from the last decade?
- Claims that North Carolina is dismantling public education via underfunding are simply untrue. North Carolina continues to invest in education at record levels.
- We can’t spend our way to an educated citizenry, however. Research fails to identify a link between higher spending levels and higher levels of student achievement. Money is not unimportant but other variables also need to be considered such as parental involvement, teacher quality, curriculum, and school quality.
- Accountability is a key part of this equation. Money only addresses resource needs; inputs. Assessing any educational system must also address outcomes.
- It is not a controversial statement to say the results of North Carolina EOG, EOC and other academic performance tests like NAEP exams are not where they should be. Progress has been slow and in some areas nonexistent.
- School districts are monopolies and lack accountability. Competition spurs accountability. Compeittion from charter schools and other school choice options help students and help to improve schools.
- Parents are an important part to foster accountability in the schools. When parents are empowered to choose how and where their children are educated, true accountability is brought to all education providers.
- Teacher Pay – Raising teacher pay every year is not a long-term solution. Teacher pay should not be tied to years of service but to student performance. Some progress has been made.
- North Carolina needs to move away from annual across-the-board increases and the teacher salary schedule. Both disincentivize excelllence. School districts and principals should be empowered to set pay levels for teachers, levels that reward excellence and the realities of different regional labor markets.
- Teacher Benefits – Teacher benefits must be brought into the discussion of teacher pay. The rising cost of pensions and insurance work against higher teacher pay. Pension reforms are necessary to control costs and provide for improved teacher pay increases.