North Carolina teachers are now averaging more than $50,000 a year

North Carolina teachers are now averaging more than $50,000 a year
Teachers, including Kristin VanBuskirk, center, a math teacher at Apex High School, rally against high turnover and low pay on the sidewalk in front of Apex High School on May 21, 2014. (Credit: Ethan Hyman | The News and Observer)

RALEIGH, NC (News and Observer) - (T. Keung Hui | The News and Observer) - The average salary for a North Carolina teacher has increased to more than $50,000 a year for the first time.

Recently released figures from the state Department of Public Instruction put the average salary for a North Carolina public school teacher at $51,214 this school year. That's $1,245 more than the previous school year.

The $50,000 benchmark has been a major symbolic milestone, with Republican candidates having campaigned in 2016 about how that figure had already been reached. Democrats argued that the $50,000 mark hadn't been reached yet and that Republicans hadn't done enough, especially for highly experienced teachers.

The average teacher salary has risen 12 percent over the past five years, from $45,737 a year. Since taking control of the state legislature in 2011, Republicans raised the starting base salary for new teachers to $35,000 and gave raises to other teachers.

The National Education Association has not released this year's annual report on teacher pay, but last school year the national average salary was $58,950. According to DPI, North Carolina ranks fifth in the Southeast in average teacher compensation, with Georgia being the highest at $54,602.

The recent pay increases helped improve the state's ranking on average teacher pay to 35th in the nation in last year's NEA report. The state had fallen to 45th in 2011 after the recession froze pay increases.

The state can't take complete credit for teachers eclipsing the $50,000 mark, because many school districts supplement the state base salary. This year, the average local supplement was $4,337.

Teacher raises are likely to again be a hot issue this year with control of the General Assembly at stake in the fall elections. Republican lawmakers say their goal is to raise average teacher salaries to $55,000 a year by 2020.