Governor Pat McCrory has made the rise of teacher pay a centerpiece of his bid for reelection. The image above shows the upward climb in average teacher salaries since the 2013-2014 school year. It has appeared behind the governor at public events, including the signing of the 2016-2017 state budget.
A quick glance at the image may lead one to believe that teacher salaries have done nothing but go up since McCrory took office. But that's not entirely true.
A WUNC fact-check reveals North Carolina's teacher pay went down after the first budget the governor signed — before it began the growth the governor's campaign often highlights.
Below, we've overlaid the campaign image with the governor's start date, which is not included in the original image.
It is also not entirely accurate to say that under McCrory, North Carolina has had the fastest growth in teacher pay in the nation, as his office touted in this press release:
"Under Governor McCrory’s leadership, North Carolina teacher pay has increased faster than any other state in the country," Senior Education Advisor Catherine Truitt is quoted as saying in the May release.
The facts show North Carolina has grown the fastest in the country since McCrory signed his second budget as governor, but not over his entire term.
If we look over the governor's entire term, from Jan. 5, 2013 to the end of last school year, the state has had the 13th fastest growth in pay, at just under 5 percent. Vermont had the fastest growth in the country over that time period, at 12 percent.
Looking ahead to next year, the latest budget the governor signed should move average teacher pay to $50,150—a 10 percent increase over his full term. WUNC reached out to McCrory's office for comment but did not get a response.
Timeline of average teacher pay under McCrory
McCrory's first budget—teacher pay declines
McCrory took office on January 5, 2013, in the middle of the 2012-2013 school year. Average teacher pay that year was $45,737.
In August of 2013, Governor McCrory signed the 2013-2014 budget, which did not give teachers raises and ended pay for master's degrees. Average teacher pay went down to $44,990—an eight-year low. The governor's office omitted this $747 decline in average pay when it made the claim that under McCrory, North Carolina has had the nation's fastest growth.
McCrory signs the 2014-2015 budget—upward growth begins
The upward climb in teacher pay began with the second budget McCrory signed: the 2014-2015 budget. Since McCrory signed that budget in August 2014, North Carolina has had the fastest growth in average teacher pay of any state, at 7 percent. The growth can be attributed to a two-year plan McCrory championed to boost starting teacher pay from $33,000 to $35,000 a year.
In the 2014-2015 budget, teachers with less than five years of experience got the first half of a large pay increase.
It was also the first year since 2008 that teachers moved up on their "steps" built into the salary schedule. Teachers got a "step" up in pay if they entered their fifth, tenth, fifteenth, twentieth or twenty-fifth year.
Other experienced teachers got minimal increases, but those were sometimes offset by the loss of "longevity pay" — bonuses of 1.5 to 4 percent paid to teachers with more than 10 years of experience.
McCrory signs the 2015-2016 budget—growth levels off
In the 2015-2016 school year, teachers got their steps in the salary schedule, but only beginning teachers got additional raises. Growth in 2015-2016 was among the lowest in the country, at 0.35 percent.
So, while the state did have the nation's largest gains from August 2014 to May 2016, almost all that growth happened as a result of the pay raises loaded into the 2014-2015 budget, and most of it has only been seen by beginning teachers.
Growing fast, but out of a deep hole
The recent growth in teacher salaries moved North Carolina from its 2013-2014 low point of 47th in the nation to 41st by the end of last school year. The increases scheduled to take effect next year should move average teacher pay to $50,150—a 10 percent increase since McCrory was sworn in. But that figure is still far behind the national average, which was more than $58,000 last school year.
Like other states in the southeast, North Carolina has trailed the nation's average since at least 1999. But between 1999 and 2001, under Democratic Governor Jim Hunt, the state closed the gap to just a couple thousand dollars.
The gap began to widen in 2002 after Hunt left office.
Then the recession hit. In 2009 the Democratic-led legislature froze teachers' salaries. Republican lawmakers kept salaries frozen when they took control of the General Assembly in 2011. Teachers received no significant pay raises and no step increases for four years. That sent North Carolina's average salary down, while the national average and the southeastern average continued to climb (after a slight dip).
Beginning with the 2014-2015 school year, teacher salaries started to rise again, but remain among the bottom states in national rankings.
The 2016-2017 budget gives teachers their step increases (on a new schedule) and additional raises ranging from 2 to 8 percent, with most of the larger raises targeting mid-career teachers. It should boost the state’s average teacher pay by 4 percent since last year and 10 percent since McCrory took office. Based on analysis from the North Carolina Public School Forum, the raises could push North Carolina above the Southeast average for the first time since the 2007-2008 school year.
However, North Carolina will still trail the national average.
In an email, the governor's press secretary Graham Wilson noted the latest budget McCrory signed includes language signaling an intent to further increase teacher pay over the next several years.
"The Governor remains interested in differentiated pay for advanced teacher roles, performance and other ways to reward our teachers for the role they play in the classroom," he wrote.