Discouraging a Teaching Career: The Neglected Salaries of Experienced Teachers in North Carolina

A teacher who starts teaching at the age of 22 in North Carolina and works to a retirement age of 65, will work the last 28 years of her career with only a single $2,000 raise in pay. That is not a typo — that is the state of pay for experienced teachers in North Carolina; teachers who, unsurprisingly, are also the most effective.

The most experienced teachers are the most effective. Since 2012, their salary increases have been the smallest.

Teacher salaries in North Carolina stagnate at what should be prime earning years

A 22 year-old is graduating from college with a bachelors degree and ready to become a teacher. What does teaching look like as a career to the graduate in North Carolina?

Bleak. To say the least.

At age 37, the new teacher will see her salary stagnate at $50,000 per year. There won’t be another raise for ten more years. At age 47, the teacher will see her last and final raise to $52,000 per year — where her salary will stay for the rest of her career. These are prime earning years for most professionals, but not for teachers in North Carolina where salaries stagnate for the most experienced teachers.

Teacher pay increases every year through 15 years of experience, then flattens.

Veteran teachers got the short end of the stick with efforts to raise average teacher salary

It wasn’t always this way. Until Republicans took over the state legislature with the election of 2012, teacher salaries in North Carolina would increase with every year of experience up to year 35. Teachers who made a career of teaching were also rewarded with longevity pay, an annual supplement of up to 4.5% of their salary.

Since 2012, the greater the years of experience, the smaller the change in salary.

In 2014, in an effort to boost average teacher pay in North Carolina, the General Assembly increased salaries for beginning and less experienced teachers. At the same time, the legislature eliminated salary increases beyond 25 years of service. That same year, the legislature also eliminated longevity pay for teachers, although it was retained for other state employees.

Since 2012, the greater the years of experience, the smaller the change in salary.

This is not only unfair, it is unwise in three respects.

  • It discourages career oriented teachers from choosing North Carolina;
  • It fails to financially reward the most experienced teachers, who are also the most effective;
  • It encourages early retirement, which has the state paying a pension earlier, for a longer period and requires the additional expense of hiring another teacher to replace the one who is now collecting a pension. It is a fiscal triple-whammy for the state when a teacher retires early.

Veteran teachers are the most effective and least rewarded

It should come as no surprise that the most experienced teachers are generally the most effective. North Carolina uses a proprietary formula in an attempt to measure the effectiveness of teachers by looking at student achievement on end of grade tests. This is reported as a teacher’s EVAAS score (Education Value-Added Assessment System). In its annual report to the North Carolina General Assembly last month, these scores were reported by the state Department of Public Instruction as an index grouped by teachers’ years of experience. The most effective teachers were those with more than 25 years of experience. Yet, it is these levels of experience that have received the smallest pay raises since 2012.

The most experienced teachers are the most effective. Since 2012, their salary increases have been the smallest.

Retirement at an early age: A perverse incentive for teachers, an unnecessary fiscal burden for the state

A teacher who starts teaching at 22 years-old will be eligible for full retirement at age 52. That 52 year-old has no more salary increases to look forward to if she keeps working. Retirement looks appealing. It is a bad deal for the people of North Carolina when that kind of incentive is put before a 52 year-old teacher. Here’s why:

By retiring at 52, instead of at 65, a teacher will draw a pension from the state for an additional 13 years. This is money that could remain in the pension fund and continue to grow (with the teacher continuing to contribute to it). When a teacher retires at an early age, she becomes a fiscal liability, not a contributor. Now in need of a teacher to replace the one who retires, the state must not only pay the retiree’s pension but also pay the salary of another teacher to replace her.

The state could pay the 52 year old enough to convince her to stay on the job and it will not have to pay a pension yet and not have to hire another teacher or it can, as it does, encourage that teacher to start drawing her pension and hire another to replace her —which sounds like the better deal for the people of North Carolina?

Sources:

Salary information: http://www.dpi.state.nc.us/fbs/finance/salary/

EVAAS index from Report to the North Carolina General Assembly. (2019). 2017-2018 State of the Teaching Profession in North Carolina. Public Schools of North Carolina, State Board of Education Department of Public Instruction. Available at: http://www.ncpublicschools.org/docs/district-humanresources/surveys/leaving/2017-18-state-teaching-profession.pdf.