Even the most informed citizens sometimes lose track of all the chatter that’s going on in the General Assembly. Fights between Republicans and Democrats, the Governor and fellow Republicans, teachers and legislators – at some point, for even the most insatiable news junkie, it devolves into just so much noise.
One of the items holding up the current budget negotiations (now more than two weeks past-due) is how much to raise teacher pay. This, in itself, is a remarkable turnaround from last year, when teachers were not only denied a raise, but were punted around the Legislature like a World Cup futbol.
Why is a teacher raise suddenly so important?
The map below at least partially answers that question.
In 64 of North Carolina’s 100 counties (dark blue), a local school system is the largest single employer. A local school system is the second-largest employer in 24 other counties (light blue). In only 12 counties (white) is a school system not in the top two. (Click on the county to see the top two employers.)
A few interesting notes: in counties where the school system is not the top employer, it’s usually due to the military (Craven, Cumberland, Onslow), a large university (Orange, Durham, Watauga, Pitt, Jackson), a prison (Granville, Hyde), or a large-scale hog/chicken processing plant (Duplin, Lenoir, Bladen). Note the absence of manufacturing.
In only one county in the state – Granville – is the school system not in the top three largest employers. The North Carolina Dept. of Health and Human Services, Revlon, and the U.S. Dept. of Justice all employ more people.
So why does this matter?
Well, after the General Assembly’s session last summer, legislators went home and likely heard from many of the employees (i.e. teachers) who worked for the single largest employer (the school system) in that legislator’s district. That political pressure clearly changed some minds regarding teacher raises, especially in an election year.
But a raise for teachers also has a longer-lasting impact beyond November.
If you think of a raise as an economic stimulus, more money in the pay checks of 95,000 teachers (spread out from Manteo to Murphy) will mean more middle-class people buying groceries, going on vacations, etc. And that will have a real, immediate economic impact on the state as a whole.
That is worth your attention.
Map by Keith Weston