Alabama is schooling North Carolina on teacher pay

By: - July 7, 2022 7:14 am

Last week, the General Assembly passed a budget that provides teachers with an average nominal raise of a little over 4%. When adjusted for inflation, the average teacher will actually experience a pay cut of about 3.9%. Somehow, this plan earned bipartisan support, with 32 Democrats joining their Republican colleagues to deliver the Governor a proposal to cut North Carolina teachers’ pay.

If only North Carolina’s legislators were replaced by a bunch of Republicans from Alabama.

In April, Alabama’s legislators passed a new teacher pay plan that is far more generous than North Carolina’s. Alabama’s teacher salary schedule for the 22-23 school year is far more generous than North Carolina’s salary schedule at every experience level. Alabama’s beginning teachers earn 17% more than their North Carolina counterparts, while teachers with 35 years or more of experience earn 23% more than their North Carolina counterparts.

In addition Alabama offers its teachers a 15% supplement for master’s degrees compared to a 10% supplement in North Carolina. Advanced degree and PhD. Supplements are also more generous in Alabama.

Alabama offers National Board certified teachers a flat supplement of $5,000 per year compared to a 12% supplement in North Carolina. North Carolina’s National Board supplement policy is a little more generous for most teachers, but because Alabama’s base pay rates are so much higher than North Carolina’s, all National Board teachers in Alabama earn more than their North Carolina counterparts.

Had North Carolina legislators simply adopted Alabama’s teacher pay schedule last week, North Carolina teachers would be getting nominal raises ranging from 8.6% to 27.2%. The average teacher would be getting a pay raise of 17.4%. That’s more than double last year’s 8.6% increase in inflation. And it exceeds the pay plan currently sitting on the Governor’s desk by a factor of four.

North Carolina would have had to spend about $880 million more in this year’s budget to adopt the Alabama pay plan (the cost of Alabama’s plan compared to North Carolina’s FY22 schedule, less amounts appropriated for the FY23 teacher pay in the 2021 budget). The shortfall between North Carolina and Alabama’s pay plans may seem large, but such a plan is readily affordable.

$880 million represents less than half of the state’s recurring surplus of $2 billion. In other words, legislators could have adopted Alabama’s teacher pay proposal and still had enough left over to fully fund the Leandro Plan and expand Medicaid.

It is also important to remember that North Carolina is a much wealthier state than Alabama. North Carolina’s per capita personal income exceeds Alabama’s by 15% (the gap in per capita GDP is even larger). This implies that North Carolina should be able to afford teacher salaries that are at least 15% greater than Alabama’s. Instead, this latest budget leaves North Carolina teachers with a schedule that falls about 13% short.

Meanwhile, Alabama is already seeing the positive impact of its new salary schedule. Teacher retirements are far below predicted levels, keeping thousands of effective, experienced teachers in Alabama classrooms. North Carolina students would benefit from a similar reduction in turnover and classroom vacancies that would inevitably follow from adopting an Alabama-style teacher pay plan.

It’s not too late for North Carolina legislators to treat our teachers as well as Republican lawmakers are treating teachers in Alabama. Governor Cooper can (and should!) veto this budget. The legislators who voted for the budget can recognize the error in their ways, uphold the Governor’s veto, and return with a budget that provides teachers with the type of pay raises they deserve.

Note: The analysis above does not account for Alabama’s additional supplements for math and science teachers (supplements that range from 12% to 21%), nor does the analysis account for the $5,000 per year stipend Alabama teachers receive for teaching in hard-to-staff schools. Alabama spends at least $80 million per year for these supplements. This analysis also does not account for the $170 million North Carolina spends on the teacher supplement assistance allotment that applies to teachers in 95 of the state’s 100 counties. Alabama’s public school population is approximately 55% of North Carolina’s so these omissions are unlikely to materially affect the analysis above.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Kris Nordstrom
Kris Nordstrom

Kris Nordstrom is a Senior Policy Analyst with the North Carolina Justice Center's Education & Law Project. He previously spent nine years with the North Carolina General Assembly’s nonpartisan Fiscal Research Division.