by: Jenna Deery Updated:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - On Wednesday, Gov. Pat McCrory will unveil his plan for improving teacher pay in North Carolina. Teachers in the state have watched their pay drop to among the lowest in the country.
9 Investigates found pay is so low some teachers told us they have received government assistance to help support their families.
Rachel Koser said she was destined to be a teacher. She left a job as an office manager in Atlanta after she found herself making lesson plans during her lunch breaks. She later moved to Caldwell County to be an English teacher, but that trade off came with a cost.
“I'm surviving right now, but I can't afford to take (my children) to the dentist,” said Koser. “I make sure that they eat meat twice a week, but the rest of the time we do a lot of peanut butter. We do a lot of beans.”
Koser counts every penny in an envelope budget system because money is tight on her salary. It used to be much tighter before she got a master's degree last year.
She made less than $30,000, which was barely enough, she said, to support her children. They had received food stamps and Medicaid to get by.
“It's hard to think back on those times,” she said. “If it weren’t for our garden outside, there would have been a lot of times when we wouldn't have any fruits or vegetables.”
A Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools teacher, who asked Channel 9 not reveal his identity, has also struggled. He said those struggles have always been dealt with in private, but he says people should know about the hardships some North Carolina teachers are facing.
“We were told that I made a little over $500 too much to qualify for food stamps,” he said.
The state ranks 46th in average teacher salary-- which is $45,737. The national average is $56,103.
On average, teachers in North Carolina start at $30,778 a year and they are required to have a college education.
That starting salary is less than the average Charlotte sanitation worker and that job that doesn't require a college degree.
Leaders in individual counties decide how much money goes to schools. They say frustration is often directed at them, to raise teacher pay, but they say that's not their problem to fix.
“Once the county typically starts funding a certain area, the state then expects them to continue to do that,” said Rep. Tricia Cotham, D-Mecklenburg County.
State Rep. Tricia Cotham is vice chair of North Carolina's house education committee, but she used to be a CMS administrator. She says state lawmakers set the standards for teacher pay.
“Really it comes down to priorities,” Cotham said. “Teacher groups are saying, ‘Well wait a minute you gave billionaires tax breaks so really who are you picking? What is your priority here?’”
She said increasing pay could require a major overhaul of education funding and it's a complicated problem that doesn't have an easy solution.
Koser believes without one, education in North Carolina will be in turmoil.
“I just want there to be a future for my profession and I don't see that as a possibility when my best and brightest students, I don't feel right telling them ‘you can be a teacher someday’ when I know that this is what they have to look forward to, counting out pennies to buy a gallon of milk.” Koser said.
McCrory has proposed a plan to increase starting salaries for teachers. Legislation is expected to be introduced during the short session that starts next Wednesday.
Lawmakers have said higher pay for everyone else would depend on the state's budget situation.
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