Thousands of teachers from Raleigh, Charlotte, Durham and Chapel Hill will be marching on Raleigh next week as part of a protest sponsored by the North Carolina Association of Educators.
It’s an emotional issue, to be sure. And that’s shown up in the rhetoric I’ve heard.
Republicans have “gutted” public education. Teachers aren’t respected. Classes are overcrowded.
To be clear: I think North Carolina could do more to fund public schools. I believe it is more than fair to criticize the state of public education in our state. It’s OK to say things aren’t improving fast enough.
But I also believe things are moving in the right direction — and to say that the General Assembly is anti-teacher or anti-education is demonstrably false.
[Longleaf story: The impact N.C. Republicans have had on K-12 public education, explained]
Here are the facts behind some of the overheated slogans you’ll hear.
Myth #1: Republicans have gutted education funding.
Reality: By all measures, education spending has increased in North Carolina over the past half-decade.
In 2011, K-12 education cost North Carolina about $7.5 billion. In the most recent approved budget, that total had grown to $9 billion.
That’s $1.5 billion in additional education spending over six years, according to officially published state budgets.
Per pupil spending
Per pupil spending has also risen, according to reports from the National Education Association.
Per student spending by the state was $8,572 in 2011, good for 45th in the nation. By 2016, it had climbed slightly, to $8,955 — jumping three places to No. 42.
Myth #2: Class sizes are growing
Reality: Class sizes have stayed extremely consistent in both the state’s largest districts and statewide. Often, they’ve actually decreased.
Here’s Algebra I, for example. The four lines represent Wake, Durham, Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools — all districts that have canceled school on May 16 to protest.
Grade 7 and Grade 2 show similar patterns.
Statewide, the average class size has stayed remarkably consistent across grade levels — even decreasing in some cases.
The statewide average class size for high school biology has fallen from 20 in 2002 to 18 each of the last five years. For 7th grade, it’s stayed steady at 21.
How does North Carolina class size stack up nationally? The latest U.S. comparison I could find came from 2012.
Our state’s average class size for elementary school was 19.8, lower than the 21.6 average nationwide.
For high schools, North Carolina’s average class size was 24.3, basically even with the national average of 24.2.
In 2016, 62 percent of educators reported that they were satisfied with class sizes.
And in fact, the state legislature has been pushing to reduce class sizes further in grades K-3. The NCAE has fought it tooth and nail.
Myth #3: Teacher pay is stagnant.
Reality: Teacher pay is rising faster in North Carolina than anywhere in the nation.
Last year, average teacher pay rose 4 percent, highest in the U.S., according to the NEA.
In the next two years, teacher pay will rise another 10 percent, according to the budget passed last summer.
Myth #4: The legislature does not respect teachers.
Reality: Teachers have been treated much better than any other type of state employee. Just look at pay increases each year for teachers versus state employees in general. Data is from the Department of Public Instruction.