Fact Check: Did North Carolina Teachers Ever Earn The National Pay Average?

Dec 18, 2019

When it comes to the state budget stalemate, Republicans and Democrats have been blaming each other – especially when it comes to teacher pay. 

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the budget, saying, for one, it didn’t do enough for teachers. Democratic State Sen. Jeff Jackson of Charlotte waded into the subject this month, tweeting, "We need to raise North Carolina teacher pay to at least the national average – which is where it was back when I was in public school.”

Joining "Morning Edition" host Lisa Worf to assess this claim and a recent statement by Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Forest is WRAL’s Paul Specht.

Lisa Worf: First, what is the national average for teacher pay, and what is it in North Carolina?

Paul Specht: The national average is about $60,000. In fact, it's a little bit above $60,000. But North Carolina lags behind that. We're at $53,000, or thereabouts.

Worf: And at issue is what it was when Sen. Jackson was in school. And what you find out about that?

Specht: You know, it helps that Jackson is on the younger side of the state Senate. He completed his final year of high school in the year 2000. And so we looked at the year 2000 and the prior decade, dating back to the late 80s. And it turns out the good old days aren't as good as he remembers.

North Carolina has never met the national average, according to available records.

Worf: Were we closer then?

Specht: We have come close in the year 2000 and the year 2001 and the year 2002. And one reason we came close was back in the late 1990s, Gov. Jim Hunt made a concerted effort to reach the national average.

Worf: So what did Sen. Jackson say when you told him it looked like that wasn't the case?

Specht: He said that he was referring to average in terms of the "median," or North Carolina's rank in comparison to other states. So you can look at the numbers from 1999 and 2000 -- that's his last year in high school -- and see that our average teacher pay ranked 23rd in the country. But that doesn't mean that we were above the national average. We were still below that salary number for the whole country.

Worf: And where are you getting these rankings and averages from?

Specht: We get most of them from the National Education Association. In most cases, North Carolina's teachers union and NEA, their records can be spotty once you get back into the 80s and 70s. So it's hard to tell where we ranked that far back.

Jeff Jackson
Credit NC General Assembly

Worf: Where are we now as far as ranking?

Specht: According to the NEA, they estimated that in our 2018-2019 school year, we ranked 29th.

Worf: So how did you judge Sen. Jackson's claim, then?

Specht: We considered his argument that he was referring to our standing amongst other states. We were 23rd. And you can say that when you just look at the states, we were above average.

But the thing that pushed us over was, what will people get when they Google "U.S. average teacher pay vs. North Carolina average teacher pay?" They will get a very specific salary number in both cases.

And so because that is the literal definition of average in terms of these statistics, we gave him a false.

Worf: Now, on to a statement made by Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who is running for governor, about people who are in the country illegally. He said this at a press conference last month with ICE officials:

Dan Forest: But if we have tens of thousands of children in our state, tens of thousands of children in our state, the victims of these violent criminals already, you have a lifetime, tens of thousand of lifetimes of victims in our state that are going to grow up with that on their mind.

Worf: Is that statement true?

Specht: It's not true. We could find no evidence that tens of thousands of children had been victimized, if you will, by immigrants who are sought by ICE, but released by sheriffs in North Carolina. And that's because no one tracks that data. Not at the federal level, not at the state level. And we could find no trustworthy or credible studies that even an academic level at universities that track those three things.

Worf: So if it's not tracked, how do you know that indeed it is not true?

Specht: There's very little data on even immigrants who are released by sheriffs and sought by ICE. Forest's group send us news articles that link to a little over a thousand where they're not just crimes committed, they're charges, in many cases. These people aren't convicted.

So he doesn't get the benefit of the doubt by extrapolating that data. We spoke to experts that study immigration, that deal with statistics, and they said it's a major fallacy. It's very problematic for him to look at a few cases, a couple hundred cases of immigrants who committed crimes and were released and extrapolate that into tens of thousands, which by definition means 20,000 or more.