Local Educators React to State Budget
For Release: 10.10.23
By: Dr. Denita Dowell-Reavis
Alexander County Public Information Officer
The ink of the state budget is still drying and already there’s strong reaction from educators in North Carolina and those in Alexander County. The state constitution mandates lawmakers provide a free public education for students. In the latest budget, the state provides more than 17 billion dollars to education or about 58% of all state spending. However, raises for teachers and educators are low compared to those employees’ expenses.
State school superintendent Catherine Truitt released a statement on October 2nd, the day the budget took effect. She says, “As a former educator, I’ve been vocal that North Carolina’s teachers deserve a raise, and I’m disappointed that we did not see the double digit pay increase for educators that we hoped for in this Conference budget. Salaries in other professions have kept pace with inflation, however that is not the case with education.”
The Republican-led General Assembly passed the budget nearly three months late on September 28th. The budget is required to be passed by July 1st every two years, called a biennium. Governor Roy Cooper had called on lawmakers to award an 18% raise for educators, or 9% each year. He says the latest budget “seriously shortchanges our schools.”
Alexander Central High School English teacher Beth Duncan has been in the classroom for more than 25 years. She says she’s frustrated with what the state legislature decided.
“I love what I do and ultimately I do it for the kids but it would be nice to be compensated fairly, adequately,” says Duncan.
NC Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger leads the Senate. The senate originally had a proposal of even lower raises, 4.5% (2.25% per year) than what passed. Berger says this latest package is a “solid budget.”
The Speaker of the House, Tim Moore, says the raise is a “historic investment” of 6.7 percent over two years. For veteran teachers, those with 15 years or more in education, the raise is 3.4 percent this year. For beginning teachers, their salaries will go up 9.7 percent.
According to the Federal Planning Bureau average consumer price inflation will average 4.1% over the course of 2023; that’s on top of higher prices with a 2022 inflation rate of 9.59 percent.
First grade teacher Christine Ford struggles to see the new state budget as an investment.
“My overall reaction is definitely one of disappointment. Going into year 24 there’s not much of a raise. In fact, some people are calling it more of a decrease if you look at cost of living, if you look at the freeze, if you look at what we should have been making starting out 24 years ago,” says Ford.
Ford calls portions of the spending plan a freeze because teachers in years 15 through 24 get the same amount monthly for each of those 10 years. Their monthly pay is $5,388 for 10 months. Then, in year 25, teachers earn $7 a month more than the year prior.
“Over time it’s like now we are at that decrease instead. Even though I am making a little bit more money each month, over time it has become more of a decrease than what is truly an increase,” says Ford.
Duncan agrees with her colleague from Wittenburg Elementary.
“It’s frustrating because what it says is that your experience is not valuable enough to compensate you for. I look at the teacher I am now versus the teacher I have been when I had less experience and it’s frustrating because ultimately it’s going to harm the kids. They are the ones that get shortchanged when they don’t have the benefit of teachers who have that experience. Because every year we learn, and every year we get stronger as teachers, which is better for the kids.”
According to a National Association of Education report, North Carolina ranks 34th nationally in teacher pay. However, according to the NEA, beginning teacher pay ranks 46th nationally. Low beginning teacher pay is one reason the legislature offered new teachers a nine percent increase.
East Alexander Middle School language arts teacher Allison Martin says a friend of hers quit teaching after three years because she couldn’t pay her bills. Martin is a newcomer and welcomes the new $400 a month.
“It is good news of course for the younger teachers who are coming into the profession to have money that equates to the amount of work that we put in,” says Martin.
However, she quickly speaks up for those with more experience.
“Almost every single senior teacher in this building has provided a resource or favor for me as a beginning teacher,” says Martin.
She continues, “My initial reaction is that it is not fair to them.”
Ford’s daughter is completing her work to get a teaching degree and should graduate in December. It’s no surprise, Ford worries about the future of education in North Carolina.
“What are they going to do when people start not going into the teaching profession because there’s no money and you can’t live off of it?” she asks.
Duncan says the budget shouldn’t pit veteran teachers against beginners. She adds it should be about the entire profession.
“I am not saying that first year teachers are not good teachers or fifth-year teachers are not good teachers. It’s just I look at the mistakes I made when I was a younger teacher and the things I know now as a more veteran teacher or a more seasoned teacher and it’s just really frustrating because they’re not going to end up with teachers who’ve been doing this for a whole career because folks are not going to be able to stay with the way things are now.”
She adds veteran teachers can’t really bow out because they are so close to retirement.
Instead, she’ll keep coming for the students. “... because it’s not something I can affect, and therefore I try to limit what raises my blood pressure. I just know it’s not very much for those of us who’ve been here a long time.”
Martin, the beginner, says she’ll work for her students and she’ll work to help people understand why she believes teaching is crucial.
“Teachers you would think have a good reputation like nurses or policemen or doctors but that profession, there are a good number of people who look down on it. They don’t see the importance of it,” says Martin.
The state budget has investments in Career and Technical Education, digital learning, early literacy, school construction costs, and safety grants.
In addition, the state budget awards additional funds to the Opportunity Scholarship Grant Fund Reserve (voucher program). The revised net appropriation for private school vouchers is $263.5 million in 2023-24 and $354.5 million in 2024-25. State lawmakers plan to invest $400 million for vouchers in 2025-26 and increase the amount to $500 million by the end of the decade. North Carolina’s budget will also increase spending to advertise and promote vouchers from a half million dollars this year to a million dollars.
The Education Law Center puts North Carolina last in the country for what it spends on public education compared to the state’s capacity to pay.
“We're ranked at the bottom in per pupil spending when looking at national comparisons, and we're prioritizing tax cuts and funding for private schools over fully funding our public education system,” said Lauren Fox, senior policy analyst for the NC Public School Forum.
According to economists in the Office of State Budget and Management and the General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division, the state has a $3.25 billion dollar surplus for 2022-2023.
The entire state budget is at this address: