RALEIGH – Since the mid-2000s, North Carolina has seen a general decline in expenditures per student in our K-12 public schools, community colleges and public universities.

Likewise – despite a modest bump the past few years – the state’s rank in average K-12 teacher salaries has declined since 2000.

Figures on average teacher salaries released yesterday show North Carolina climbing from 41st to 35th in the nation this year, which is encouraging.

But it’s no place to stop.

An analysis for the Higher Education Works Foundation found that after adjusting for inflation, state expenditures still haven’t recovered to pre-recession levels in:

  • Spending per child enrolled in pre-kindergarten;1
  • Expenditures per student in K-12 public schools;2
  • Expenditures per student in our community colleges;3
  • Expenditures per resident student at our public universities.4

*Comparable data unavailable prior to 2006.

*Comparable data unavailable prior to 2006.

This is in part because North Carolina is a rapidly growing state – more people mean more children to educate, and enrollment has generally climbed across the board.  (An exception is that enrollment at community colleges tends to decline when the economy improves.)

But state spending hasn’t kept pace with that growth.

Paralleling the general decline in state support, average teacher pay in North Carolina sank from a national rank of 19th in 2001-02 to 47th in 2013-145 before modest raises helped the state’s teachers climb to 35th this year.

Despite the efforts to raise teacher pay, the figures released yesterday show North Carolina’s expenditure per student in public schools, at $8,940 this year, slipped to 43rd in the nation from 42nd last year.  The national average this year is $11,984.6

The Higher Education Works Foundation cares about the quality of North Carolina’s K-12 public schools because 89 percent of the undergraduates at our state’s public universities7 and 97 percent of students at our community colleges8 come from within our state’s borders.

Our alums teach many of those students; 37.5 percent of our state’s public school teachers were educated at our public universities.9

Yet in a world that increasingly demands educated workers, we find it alarming that just 38% of NC 4th-graders scored proficient in the 2015 NAEP reading assessment – and that 46% of NC high-school graduates met none of the four ACT college-readiness benchmarks in 2016.10

We share this historical data as the N.C. General Assembly enters its budget season and legislators contemplate a tax cut that could total one billion dollars.

Tax cuts nearly always sound nice, but they can come at a cost.

1 http://nieer.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/North_Carolina_2015_rev1.pdf.
2 http://www.ncpublicschools.org/fbs/resources/data/.
5 http://www.ncpublicschools.org/fbs/resources/data/
6 http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/2017_Rankings_and_Estimates_Report-FINAL-SECURED.pdf, p. 121.  http://www.wral.com/nc-ranks-35th-in-nation-for-teacher-pay-ranked-41st-last-year/16693105/.
7 UNC General Administration, May 8, 2017.
8 NC Community College System, May 9, 2017.
9 https://ung4.ondemand.sas.com/SASVisualAnalyticsViewer/guest.jsp?appSwitcherDisabled=true&reportViewOnly=true&reportPath=/UNG/External%20Content/Reports&reportName=NCTeachers.
10 BEST NC Facts & Figures Education in North Carolina 2017, pp. 52, 64.


  1. David H. Diamont says

    When I chaired the House Appropriations Committee by myself, we gave teachers an across the board pay increase of 6.5% each year. That was in 1989-1990. Rep. Martin Nesbit and I chaired the committee as co-chairs under Speaker Dan Blue the two sessions. I am curious, if you added 1988 to 2000 onto your chart just how would it look.
    The 1989-1990 session was the only time an active public school classroom teacher chaired a legislative Appropriations Committee.
    I retired from teaching high school history in 2015 after 47 1/2 years. My system still allows me to coach football (head football coach, East Surry High School).

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