The Pulse

State’s new teacher pay structure boosts paychecks for some teachers, not so much for others

By: - September 24, 2014 4:40 pm

The final budget for fiscal year 2015 – which runs from July 2014 through June 2015 – includes a pay raise for public school teachers for the first time in several years. What the pay raise translates into regarding additional dollars in teachers’ paychecks is unclear based on differing comments by the governor and state lawmakers. Whereas Governor McCrory proclaims an average pay increase of 5.5 percent for teachers, state lawmakers tout a 7 percent average pay raise.

Beyond the on average presentation of the teacher pay raise by state policymakers, the amount of additional money teachers will see in their paychecks varies greatly – particularly among early-career teachers compared to more experienced teachers.

Not all teachers are provided a long-awaited, meaningful pay increase under the new teacher pay structure. The new six-step pay structure for teachers included in the final budget replaces the existing 36-step pay scale – these steps are based on years of teaching experience and determine when a teacher gets a pay increase. Reducing 36 steps down to six entailed much maneuvering by state lawmakers, resulting in some teachers getting a boost in pay at the expense of other teachers.

Under the new pay scale, the starting pay for early-career teachers jumps to at least $33,000 from $30,800 under the old pay schedule—a 7.1 percent increase. However, salary increases for more experienced educators are much lower. In fact, some teacher would actually earn less under the new pay scale compared to the old pay scale; these teachers will continue to earn salaries based on the old pay scale for the 2013-14 school year along with a flat annual $1,000 bonus.

The chart below shows the change in teacher pay under the new pay scale compared to the old pay plan for selected teacher profiles. BTC’s analysis includes longevity pay in the annual salaries under the old pay structure. Teachers who have been working in North Carolina for 10 years or more receive longevity payments, which increase every five years. The new pay schedule does away with longevity payments.

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The chart highlights that the new teacher pay scale favors early-career teachers at the expense of more experienced teachers. For many teachers the on average teacher pay raise touted by the governor and state lawmakers doesn’t translate to their paychecks – evidenced by some teachers receiving pay raises of less than one percent. Other provisions in the budget, such as restrictive criteria regarding education-based salary supplements for teachers, mean that some teachers are no longer afforded opportunities to increase their salaries through professional development and advanced educational attainment. Furthermore, the pay raise for other school personnel was modest – $500 for janitors and teacher assistants and $1,000 for school administrators.

A deeper assessment of the new teacher pay scale highlights a failure by state lawmakers to comprehensively revamp the state’s teacher pay structure so that all educators receive a long-awaited, meaningful pay increase. Ensuring that North Carolina can attract and retain high-quality, committed educators requires a teacher pay structure that rewards teachers along the entire pipeline. Today’s early-career teachers become tomorrow’s experienced educators, which highlights a need for a teacher pay structure that acknowledges and supports all teachers.

This post is part of the NC Budget and Tax Center’s Blog series on the final budget passed by North Carolina lawmakers during the 2014 legislative session. See the rest of the series here.

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