North Carolina’s Perfect Storm: Pay Inequality and Student Outcomes

We’ve been calling it the summer of rain in North Carolina. Hardly a day passes that dark clouds don’t converge, sometimes letting loose great, sideways torrents of water, sometimes teasing out only a brief shower. When I moved to Charlotte almost 2 years ago, I found the rain depressing. After time to adapt, I understand it now as the origin of North Carolina’s beauty–the lush, unruly green that is the hallmark of spring and summer here.

In Raleigh, another convergence is at work. Having already lain waste to myriad public services, the General Assembly is threatening to create a financial drought for North Carolina public schools. As part of the proposed budget, North Carolina is ending stipends for teachers with Master’s degrees and National Board certification. It is the (almost too perfect) contrast between the natural phenomena of creation and the human constructs of destruction that causes to me consider the link between my financial situation as a teacher and student outcomes.

As third-year teacher with a Master’s degree in Education, my monthly income, which is paid over 10 months, comes to around $2,600/month after withholdings for taxes and a mandatory deduction to the state retirement fund. $2,600 a month.  Corresponding with my income, my lifestyle is modest. I share a 2 bedroom house in a working-class neighborhood with a roommate, drive an economical vehicle, and I’ve taken on a second job as a waitress.

Other than the increased demands on my time and energy, I like my waitressing job. What worries me, looking forward, is how it will impact my students. As a teacher in a Title I school, flexibility is important. Last year, I was able to stay almost any day after school for tutoring. I ran book clubs and writing workshops to promote literacy and school engagement. I was able to ensure that these opportunities were available to all of my students by providing transportation home. More than this, I was able to work late into the evenings, adapting resources and developing greater intricacy in my lessons. This coming school year, I feel as though I have to make the decision between what is best for my finances and what is best for my students. The time that I will spend working at my second job is time stolen from my students. It is quality stolen from their education.

The field of teaching in general is blighted by pay inequality. North Carolina in particular has made the situation for teachers more dire, putting us 47th in National pay rankings. To what extent does this trickle down to our students? I think the impact on national student outcomes is obvious. What, then, will be the impact on student outcomes in North Carolina?