North Carolina Teacher Pay is Still Behind the National Average And Horribly Not Competitive – Why The Cost Of Living Adjustment Argument is Erroneous

According to Dr. Terry Stoops and the John Locke Foundation, we rank 20th in the country in teacher pay when “adjusted for cost of living.”

The John Locke Foundation is a libertarian-leaning think tank whose findings and studies on North Carolina’s public schools is so bent toward a political ideology that celebrates “school choice” and vouchers that it tends to spin data and research so much that it hopes readers will not take the time to actually look into the data themselves.

In a “Research Brief” dated last week entitled “N.C. Average Teacher Salary Ranks 20th When Adjusted for Cost of Living,” Stoops begins,

“This week, the National Education Association (NEA) released data from its annual Rankings and Estimates report.  The bottom line is that North Carolina’s $53,975 average teacher salary ranks 29th, a significant improvement over last year’s ranking of 34th in the nation.  The N.C Department of Public Instruction produces the salary figure using an established formula, and it does not include thousands of dollars paid for health care and retirement benefits.  Most importantly, the average salary figures used in the NEA report are not adjusted for cost of living.”

And Stoops makes clear to claim that NEA’s system of finding what the average salary is erroneous.

The teacher salary averages that are collected and published by union researchers have never been satisfactory for making sound comparisons across states.  They are (and always have been) flawed rankings of average salaries for very different states with very different teacher workforces teaching in very different types of public school systems.  The dilemma is that Rankings and Estimates uses a metric – the statewide average – that most people grasp easily.  That is one reason why the NEA report is covered widely by print and broadcast media and is popular with politicians and public school advocacy organizations.  Yet, simplicity comes at the expense of accuracy.


Ironically, Stoops makes the argument that NEA uses an erroneous metric but uses the NEA’s numbers to show how much we are really making as teachers compared to the nation.

He states Fifty-one different states (and D.C.) have “flawed rankings of average salaries for very different states with very different teacher workforces teaching in very different types of public school systems?” So, Stoops is using those numbers to base his argument that we in NC really have it good?

To make the best of a bad situation, every year I use cost of living indices produced by the Council for Community & Economic Research (C2ER) to adjust salary averages for cost of living differences. 

C2ER stands for the Council for Community and Economic Research and it even warns against using the cost of living index in such a broad stroke as Stoops has done with numbers he already says are erroneously calculated in the first place. Within its 2017 Cost of Living Index, it states,

“For 23 years, participation in the Cost of Living
Index was open to all places, regardless of size.
In the late 1980s, however, several rural places
with very small populations began
participating, and it became apparent that
adherence to the specifications in many such
places wasn’t possible. There’s no doubt that
small rural places offer an alternative to an
urban professional or managerial standard of
living that many people find attractive, but such
places are qualitatively different from urban
areas, and they simply don’t support the kind of
urban lifestyle embodied in the Cost of Living

The Committee has concluded that
participation in the Index should be restricted to
areas that can reasonably be considered urban
and patterned its restrictions after the federal
government’s distinction between urban and
rural areas.”

You can read that document here: The above is on page 4. In fact, the the C2ER site actually prefers that the index be used when comparing cities to cities – not state to state.

And Stoops does acknowledge that the C2ER index needs to be looked at on a deeper basis than just state to state.

But what he does is take numbers from calculations that he claims are separately done with political bias by each state and then he plugs them into a formula that really does not tell the whole picture.

All to claim that North Carolina is 20th in he country in teacher pay.

So, this is what this teacher would like for Dr. Stoops to explain:

If the average salary of the NC teacher is $53,975 and the current salary schedule is…


… then how can that average pay be sustained when teachers now are not given longevity pay and graduate degree pay bumps and when the veteran teachers who do receive graduate degree pay begin to retire in greater numbers?

And how can that be the average pay in NC stay over 50K when no one can really make much over 50K as a new teacher in his/her entire career unless they all become nationally certified (which takes a monetary investment by the teacher to start)?

Oh, and there is that issue of local supplements that are used eagerly by politicians to brag about teacher salaries when the state has nothing to do with them in the first place.

Last week, WRAL published an op-ed talking about how the average salary in NC is misleading.

It is a blurred picture of what the real STATE GOVERNMENT average pay is for North Carolina teachers. It does not answer that critical concern. This is about what the state is doing to support public education.

What’s the problem with legislative leadership’s “average pay” number?

It is inflated by at least $4,600 – 8.5 percent. It includes non-state funding such as an “average” local supplement. The reality is that most school districts – 90 percent of the 115 in the state — pay teachers local supplements far less than that. Only 12 of the state’s school districts pay supplements equal to, or higher than, the average local bump.

A more accurate and appropriate figure would be the average state-funded teacher pay– $49,371. That’s the average for what ALL teachers receive no matter the school district in the state. Ten years ago that average was $44,860.

Over the last decade, the average local supplement to teacher pay rose over 31 percent, while the state portion of teacher pay increased just 10 percent. When General Assembly leaders tout increases in teacher pay, they’re mostly just taking credit for the efforts of some county governments and local school boards. Miserly state budgets forced leaders in several counties to assume the responsibility of boosting pay for teachers – a responsibility shirked by the legislators.

Legislative increases in teacher pay haven’t even kept up with inflation over the last decade. If average teacher pay simply matched the rate of inflation – it would be $51,334 — nearly $2,000 more than today’s average.

That’s interesting. Would like to see Dr. Stoops counter that.

In fact, the WRAL piece also stated that “North Carolina’s teacher pay ranks 49th – only Arizona is worse – in wage competitiveness.” It references a report by the Economic Policy Institute.


Would love to see Dr. Stoops counter that.