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North Carolina's "Education Exodus" Worsens as More Teachers Leave for Better Pay

Although politicians claim to support public education on the campaign trail, their actions over the past few years have done absolutely nothing to improve North Carolina schools or give teachers a meaningful pay increase.
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What's a young couple to do when they are expecting a baby, and both husband and wife are public school teachers in a state ranked one of the worst places to be a teacher?

For Dan and Katie Mangum in Asheville, North Carolina, the answer was clear: move to Georgia for better-paying teaching jobs.

In the years since North Carolina's Republican takeover in 2010, the state's once-proud education system has fallen on tumultuous times thanks to politicians who no longer seem to value public schools. Despite a $450 million budget surplus this year, lawmakers have refused to restore school funding to pre-recession levels -- which leaves teachers struggling to cope with rising enrollment while their salaries remain stagnant.

"A big thing was just a lack of respect," Dan Mangum told the Asheville Citizen-Times about his decision to leave North Carolina for better pay. "[We] just kept looking around every year and just seeing a revolving door of people coming in and out and kept looking at other states and seeing North Carolina pay not comparing year after year."

You can see more of Dan and Katie's story in a video produced by Progress North Carolina, a public policy nonprofit working to raise North Carolina teacher pay to the national average:

Last year, personal finance website WalletHub compiled nationwide data on teacher pay and classroom spending and found North Carolina to be the worst state in the nation for teachers. This year, we moved up on the list -- all the way to second-worst. According to WalletHub's data, North Carolina ranks 43rd in teacher safety, 46th in per-pupil spending, and 49th in teacher pay increases over the past decade.

The report highlights what North Carolina educators have been saying all along -- that although politicians claim to support public education on the campaign trail, their actions over the past few years have done absolutely nothing to improve North Carolina schools or give teachers a meaningful pay increase.

"My wife and I love North Carolina dearly, but we quickly realized that we would make substantially more money by moving to any of the surrounding states," Mangum said via email. "As two teachers with graduate degrees we felt were throwing money away by not moving.

North Carolina's abysmal treatment of educators may be why more and more teachers are leaving the state for better-paying jobs elsewhere, according to the state Department of Public Instruction's annual report which found teacher turnover at a five-year high. In fact, over the past five years since Republicans took over the General Assembly, North Carolina's teacher turnover rate has increased almost every single year.

Nearly 15 percent of North Carolina educators -- more than 14,250 teachers across the state -- left their jobs last year. In Charlotte schools, turnover was even higher at 16.5 percent -- the district's highest turnover rate in over a decade. Those aren't just numbers -- they're real people and families who are having to uproot their entire lives just to find a state that actually values public education.

The National Education Association ranks North Carolina dead last for its 10-year change in teacher salaries. So is it any wonder why school districts in other states are actually holding job fairs in North Carolina to attract under-paid teachers? When a school district in Texas offers teachers a starting salary higher than North Carolina's average teaching salary, who can blame teachers for leaving?

Until politicians make a genuine commitment to restoring classroom funding to pre-recession levels and raising North Carolina teacher pay to the national average, we will continue to lose experienced and qualified teachers to states with better pay -- and our schools will continue to suffer. Although the economy is recovering, North Carolina schools are living in a permanent recession thanks to politicians who simply do not value public education.