North Carolina’s attrition rate for public school teachers ticked up last school year but remains below the national average, according to a new report presented to the North Carolina State Board of Education on Wednesday.

The latest annual State of the Teaching Profession Report measured attrition and vacancies among public school teachers between March 2022 and March 2023. Teacher attrition stood at 11.5% for the 2022-2023 school year, a jump from 7.8% in 2021-2022. Beginning teachers in their first three years of the profession had a higher attrition rate, at 15.1%, when compared to more experienced teachers.

The vacancy rate — calculated based on the number of positions not filled by a fully licensed, permanent employee — was 6.4% in 2022-2023, compared to 5.9% in 2021-2022. But part of the reason for that higher number is because state legislators broadened the definition of a vacancy for the 2021-2022 school year, according to DPI officials. Under the old approach, the vacancy rate would be 3.7% or lower.

“The attrition rate for public school teachers is a complicated issue,” said Dr. Robert Luebke, director of the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation. “To put these numbers in context, we need to recognize the attrition rates for states neighboring North Carolina and take into consideration the fact that these numbers come at the end of the pandemic. We also need to have better data on why teachers are leaving, which isn’t always clear from the current data. The reasons are not always related to pay.”

The news isn’t all bad. Hiring for new teachers outpaced the attrition rate, with 11,023 new educators hired in fall 2023 compared to 10,373 who left the previous school year.

What’s more, North Carolina’s attrition rate was below the national average, which is estimated to be 12% for the 2022-2023 school year.

The teacher attrition rate is also lower than that of state government employees, who have similar benefits to teachers and whose salaries are set by state lawmakers. The turnover rate for state employees is 16.8%, according to a March 2023 report from the Office of State Human Resources.

“These trends highlight the importance of providing enhanced support for early-career educators, including those who enter the profession through the residency license pipeline,” said state superintendent of public instruction Catherine Truitt in a statement. “With nearly half of new teachers coming to us through alternative teacher preparation programs, we need to take a close look at how to better differentiate supports for those educators. I will continue to recommend that the state consider redesigning its teacher licensure and compensation system so that beginning teacher support is embedded earlier and systematically throughout a teacher’s career.”

Teachers are also coming to the profession through alternative licensure routes. Those alternative routes are up by 23% since 2017.