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.

Total spending

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.

Please forgive the fact that the graph does not start at zero. The House speaker’s office made the chart and wanted it to look more dramatic. Still, the numbers and the trend check out.

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.

Explore the data yourself here.

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.

See that data here.

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.

Homepage photo of a 2013 teacher protest in Cumberland County by Gerry Dincher via Flickr (Creative Commons).



  1. Misleading to say the least. Looks like you got all of your info from the GOP playbook. The chart you use is like all education spending charts you get from the GOP, it always starts with 2008. Why? because that was the year of the recession when budgets were slashed due to shortfalls in revenue. In 2007, per pupil spending, in raw numbers, was $8,615. It took until 2013 for the for the GOP to clear that number. That’s the raw spending number. Accounting for inflation, the numbers are much worse.

    It isn’t intellectually honest to compare spending over the years without factoring in inflation. After all, $100 spent in 2008 is not the same as $100 spent in 2018. While the GOP loves to fight the perception that they have cut school funding by referencing the raw amount of money spent, they never like to account for inflation. If the education system grows by 1% and the legislature increases spending by 1%, yes, the legislature has “increased” spending for education. However, it is fair to say that the school systems are forced to do more with less since that money does not go as far on a per student basis due to inflation. Factoring in inflation shows more accurately how education spending in NC has fallen in the GOP era.

    The GOP has increased teacher salaries in the aggregate. When teacher salaries ranked 49th in the country, it began to hold some political sway over them. So they acted, The overwhelming majority of the increase has gone to teachers in the beginning half of their careers. Experienced teachers have seen their wages largely stagnant over the last 8 years. They have seen fellow teachers with 10 – 15 years less experience vault up to their pay scale, while they are making roughly the same as they did 5 years ago.

    One may ask, if the GOP cut funding for schools so significantly, how did they raise teacher salaries? Repeated and sustained cuts to all support personnel. The GOP has cut the Dept of Public Instructions budget every year since 2010. Now I can believe that administration of the school system may have gotten a little top heavy. How much is enough? The school my wife teaches at, currently cannot make copies. Why? all the copy machines (including mimeograph) are broken and there aren’t sufficient funds in the budget to fix. One third of the usable furniture (desks, book shelves, file cabinets) in my wife’s room have been bought by us because the school did not have anything that wasn’t torn to pieces.. Teacher’s aides are now split between several classrooms. They are spread so thin, that their effectiveness is greatly diminished. Why do you need teacher’s aides? Because when there is a discipline problem, a sickness problem, or any of a myriad of other issues that can come up in a classroom the teacher has to stop and handle it. It may take 20 minutes. It may take the whole afternoon. Guess what the teacher isn’t doing during that time? TEACHING. Guess which schools have the most of these time sucking situations? Low income schools. The same ones that need the most from their teachers.

    I read this website hoping for balanced viewpoints. In this article, you didn’t really try to present the other side.

    • Hey Jeff, I definitely appreciate your perspective! There’s a lot of improvement still needed in our public education system. What prompted this article (and the previous one on the teacher protest) is the overcharged, hyperbolic and extreme rhetoric that continues to get thrown out there. That’s one of the reasons this site exists in the first place, to be a place of reason, fact and policy as opposed to partisan spin.

      At some point in the future, I’ll write an article criticizing recent actions on education funding — but for now, I’ve focused on cutting through the hype in the current discussion. There’s also plenty of blame to go around — at the county and school district level. My son’s school district, for example, always finds tons of money for high-level administrators. And counties are primarily responsible for facility funding.

      I hear your point on the inflation-adjusted spending. I haven’t come to a conclusion on how to treat it. In most cases, inflation is so uneven and regional, so using the black box of CPI can be misleading in itself. Also, there is so much in our society that hasn’t kept up with whatever the federal number of inflation is.

      Appreciate the discussion!

  2. How about starting your graph with 2006 or 2007? That would show a more balanced indication of where spending has gone.

  3. Jeff & Libby
    How about using a set time period of like 10 years to get a decade of data to make comparisons instead of an odd number like 11 or 12. Suggesting the use of only a few years appears that you would like to skew the numbers. If you hinted at 15 or 20 years I would be more likely to trust that your intentions are for fact based solutions instead baseless blue elections.

  4. The point was to get the pre-recession numbers in there. It’s unfortunate that funding has been so low for 10 years now and that graphing the last 10 years does not show the full story. Showing 15 or 20 years would make more sense to me.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here