In North Carolina, Teachers Have to Take Second Jobs Just to Make Ends Meet

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Teachers in North Carolina can’t support their families on their current wages. The Republican-controlled legislature and new Democratic Governor need to strike a deal to fix this.

Most children in the United States spend roughly thirteen years in public schools from kindergarten to graduation from high school.  During this time, they learn, at the very least, the three “R’s: reading, writing, and arithmetic.  Some have learned foreign languages, others how to play an instrument.  

One would figure then that those who teach our children would be well-compensated. The average salary of public educators in the United States is roughly $58,000.  In North Carolina, however, that average drops to $47,985, the 41st in the nation. And this is just the average salary.  

Teachers in North Carolina and in some others states find themselves working multiple jobs just to make ends meet. When I was in my teen’s, I worked at a retail store for a couple of years.  One of my managers was a high school math teacher.  At the time, he had taught for 10 years but needed to work at the store in the evenings to have enough money to take care of his family. This often resulted in him working fifteen hours per day.

Because of this lifestyle of second jobs and being strapped for cash, prospective teachers may be inclined to look elsewhere for their careers.  Not attracting the best teachers means having less than the best education.  Because of this, citizens and politicians in North Carolina have been looking for solutions to the problem.

One argument is that due to North Carolina’s income tax rate of 5.499%, teachers have one of the lowest average salaries in the nation because the limited tax revenues are going elsewhere. As a result, it is argued that the state should raise taxes to increase spending on teachers’ salaries.  

This is not necessarily the case. Alaska, which is has no state income tax, pays its teachers an average salary of $67,443, the seventh highest average salary in America.   Maine, which has the second-highest state income tax at 10.15%  pays its teachers an average of $50,229, the 33rd highest in the nation. Therefore, it is safe to say that taxes are not the whole story. Rather, it is how tax revenues are prioritized. 

Teacher salary has been an issue that has been plagued with partisanship. Republicans, who have controlled both chambers of the North Carolina legislature for almost a decade, blamed the Democrats for freezing teacher pay.  There are plans to raise the average teachers’ salary to $51,186, which would leapfrog North Carolina from 41st to 24th according to the NC Republican Senatorial Committee (surpassing Maine’s average rate). Fortunately, it seems that bipartisanship on this effort is blooming, given the partisan past.

However, the North Carolina Senate, controlled by the Republicans and the current Governor Democratic governor Roy Cooper  see different ways to accomplish this. The Governor’s plan is  to raise the staring salary to $36,750 and give raises across the board depending on experience level. The Senate’s budget keeps the starting salary at $35,000, while offering the raises to teachers with less than 25 years’ experience. The largest raise would go to teachers with nine to fourteen years of experience.

While the Tar Heel state seems to be making up for lost time (and rightfully so), this seems to only be helping in some areas.  Teachers are responsible for classrooms decorations and learning aids. One history teacher explained to me that she has to spend money out of her own pocket for posters and other classroom decorations:“If North Carolina would look into helping teachers out in this regard,” she explained, “then the salary issue wouldn’t have been as big as it is.”  

Lagging teacher salaries continue to prevent states such as North Carolina from reaching the educational heights that its children deserve. The legislature and newly-elected Governor need to continue to put forward solutions to ensure that the top talent enters the profession of educating our country’s future generations. First and foremost, teachers need to be paid enough so they do not have to report to a job at The Gap after working all day educating our young people.

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