As the N.C. Association of Educators rallies at the state capitol this week, the left-leaning teacher’s group has a specific list of demands.

Right at the top: More money for school counselors, social workers, psychologists, nurses, and librarians to “adequately staff” North Carolina public schools.

This claim has largely gone unchallenged. But as the May 1 teacher strike approaches, Longleaf Politics decided to do a little fact-checking.

How many counselors, social workers and nurses would be enough? Who decides? And is any state meeting these supposed benchmarks?

The answers to the first two questions are easy enough to figure out. Other branches of the N.C. Association of Educators have specified that they’re pushing for the state to hire enough staff to meet “nationally recognized student-to-professional ratios.”

But digging into these numbers reveals some interesting finds. First, these “nationally recognized” numbers appear to be arbitrary — and at the very least, are far from impartial.

North Carolina also ranks well above the national average for several of the staff positions the N.C. Association of Educators cites. For the rest, our state isn’t too far off.

Here’s what we found.

The “nationally recognized” ratios aren’t based in science

For all five staff positions, these professional-to-student ratios have been published by trade associations — like the National Association of School Psychologists and the American School Counselor Association.

Many haven’t been updated in years, and few provide justifications for the numbers they chose. Most acknowledge that conditions vary across different types of schools. If there are explanations behind the recommended ratios, they’re generally centered on creating a “reasonable workload” for the staff — not what’s most effective for the student.

This is important to understand. These ratios were created by lobbying organizations whose primary job it is to get more people hired.

Further, virtually no states meet the “nationally recognized” ratios. We’ll dive deeper into each category using the best available data.

North Carolina is a national leader in school librarian staffing

Out of all five positions cited by the N.C. Association of Educators, the librarian standard seems the most logical. The recommendation is to have one professional librarian in every public school.

North Carolina is very close to this mark, and is one of the best in the nation for librarian staffing levels.

According to a report from the National Education Association, North Carolina tied for 6th in the nation with 91% of schools having one. With a percentage this high, it’s possible that schools without a professional librarian are co-located with another public school that has one or share access to a county-run library.

Further, 88% of North Carolina’s school librarians are state certified, above the 82 percent national average. Even more impressive, 81% have a masters degree in a library science field, well above the 50% national average.

North Carolina exceeds the national average for school counselors

The American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of one counselor for every 250 students. This is a wildly ambitious ratio that only three states in the country meet, according to a recent report — New Hampshire, Vermont and Wyoming.

Vermont and Wyoming are the two smallest states by population in the United States. New Hampshire is No. 41.

The national average is one counselor for every 482 students. North Carolina has a significantly better ratio, at 1:386.

North Carolina has also increased the percentage of school counselors faster than enrollment growth, maintaining a steady ratio even as the state booms.

Chart by the American School Counselor Association.

North Carolina has a nurse in the majority of public schools

The National Association of School Nurses recommends a school nurse to student ratio of 750 to 1.

North Carolina’s is slightly higher, with one for every 1,112 students. The state has its own goal for nurse staffing, trying to hit one nurse for every public school.

We’re not quite there yet. According to the Department of Public Instruction, the state has 1,318 full-time nurses for 2,313 schools.

In some areas, nurses serve multiple schools. Some schools share a campus, which makes this easier.

Muddying the waters, Medicaid funding pays a significant portion for nurses — and some North Carolina school districts simply haven’t applied for money from the federal government to pay for them.

In any case, North Carolina’s nurse-to-student ratio puts it right in the middle of the nation, according to the NEA.

Chart by the National Education Association

North Carolina’s school psychologist problem is in supply, not funding

The National Association of School Psychologists recommends one psychologist for every 1,000 students. North Carolina is closer to one for every 2,000.

However, again, this “recommended” ratio is wildly unreasonable. Only seven states in the country met this ratio in the 2009–2010 school year, the most recent year for which data was available. Nearly half of states had 1,500 or more students per psychologist.

North Carolina’s major problem with psychologists has been finding enough. The state had about 75 vacant positions last year. To help address the problem, the General Assembly has passed a law that makes it easier for licensed professional psychologists from other states to qualify to work in public schools.

There’s no good data on school social workers

The National Association of Social Workers recommends one social worker for every 250 students. North Carolina appears to be around 1:1,500 — but good numbers are hard to find. Different news accounts have reported very different figures.

In any case, this seems like a major failing at first glance. But North Carolina appears to be much better in this regard than many other states. For example, the ratio in Pennsylvania is 2,285 students for each school social worker.

There’s room for reasonable debate on school support staffing levels

But keep in mind as teachers go on strike: North Carolina is in a far better place than they’d like you to believe.


  1. Not a single teacher is going on strike Wednesday, May 1. Each is taking a personal day, which requires them to pay $50, and allows them to do whatever they wish on that day – that’s the personal part.
    Maybe longleaf can adequately staff their fact checkers so their propagandists can focus on writing. Nice try tho. See you in Raleigh.
    Btw: less than 3000 out of 10,383,620 North Carolinians rely on LP? Sounds about right

  2. “Our county schools’ budget will demonstrate that the constitutionally-guaranteed investment from the state level has decreased BCS funding from a ranking of 57 to a current ranking of 98 out of 115 school districts in NC over the last 5 years. Statistics show that the NC per pupil expenditure is roughly $2500 – $3000 below the national average, upwards of $2 million dollars per year for some of our larger schools!

    “Ratios of mental health professionals, nurses, guidance counselors, psychologists and librarians is well below the recommendations of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. We have lost over 8,000 teacher assistants statewide in the last eight years, when relationship building and differentiated instruction are at an all-time premium in supporting our students’ academic and social growth. Those who remain committed to the work are struggling to keep up with the demand and have hit critical mass.” ~Paula Dinga, president of the Buncombe County Association of Educators, from the Asheville Citizen-Times, 4/30/19 (Another one of those pesky, unreliable fact-checkers, Andy?)

  3. John Boyle, columnist, Asheville Citizen-Times, March 29, 2019

    In a USA TODAY analysis from October 2018, the paper found NC ranked 46th nationally for median school teacher pay, at $45,195. Louisiana indeed ranked ahead of us, at 41, with a median salary of $48,307.

    Our neighboring states also pay more:
    • Virginia — ranked 11th at $63,827.
    • Georgia — 26th, at $55,421.
    • South Carolina — 33rd, at $50,823.
    • Tennessee — 38th, at $49,303.

    “Despite being so highly valued, teachers are paid significantly less than other college-educated workers,” USA TODAY reported. “And though the importance of educating children cannot be overstated, public school funding is a major problem in many, mostly low income, communities across the country.”

    “The state pays the base salary for most teachers and the local system may supplement the pay,” Harris said. “In Buncombe County Schools, the County Commission allocates funds for a local supplement. [WHAT? Not the NCGOP???] Our local supplement ranges from 8.5 percent-16 percent of base pay, depending upon years of experience.”

    A teacher with no experience makes $35,000 per year from the state and receives 8.5 percent as a local supplement. A teacher with 10 years of experience makes $45,000 in state pay and a 10.5 percent local supplement. Regarding a teacher with a master’s degree and 10 years of experience, Harris said the state pay scale provides $49,500, while the local supplement is 10.5 percent.

    “We still have some teachers who are paid on their master’s degrees, but the legislature changed the law several years ago and discontinued master’s degree pay for those not grandfathered,” Harris noted. [Way to retain the Best & Brightest, NCGOP!]

  4. Just to clarify, the NEA report on librarian staffing is from 2015. Based on 2018 NC DLMI data, those public schools that have a full-time certified librarian is 75.27%, which is much lower than the 91% from 2015. In these times of budget cuts, many superintendents and principals are looking at librarians as one of the positions to cut. For the sake of student success, we must protect the position of school librarian and make it a statewide required position, instead of a recommended position. According to Keith Curry Lance and Debra E. Kachel, in their study “Why school librarians matter: What years of research tell us”, Lance writes, “the most substantial and consistent finding is a positive relationship between full-time, qualified school librarians and scores on standards-based language arts, reading, and writing tests, regardless of student demographics and school characteristics.” This is one of many reasons why we’re advocating for school librarians. They are vital to student success.


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