RALEIGH — Some left-wing commentators have speculated that a sizeable number of public school teachers are leaving North Carolina to teach in states that are, presumably, more hospitable to the profession. They want the public to believe that policies instituted by Republican lawmakers are to blame. It is the kind of baseless cause-and-effect claim that too often passes for fact in the mainstream media.
The truth is that relatively few North Carolina teachers leave the profession to teach in other states. Moreover, this trend has been consistent for years, no matter who was in charge of our political institutions.
According to the annual teacher turnover report from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, every year between 300 and 500 of the state’s approximately 96,000 teachers said they left the state to seek greener pastures.
I suspect the reasons teachers leave the state, as well as the destination states themselves, vary considerably. Unfortunately, DPI’s turnover report offers little detail. That fact, however, has not stopped some advocacy groups from highlighting a handful of dissatisfied teachers who attribute their exit to budgets and legislation passed by Republican majorities in the General Assembly since 2011.
For example, one left-wing advocacy organization recently peddled a story of a North Carolina teacher who is packing up to seek a teaching job in Ohio. After all, nominal teacher pay in Ohio is considerably higher than in North Carolina, mostly because Northern and Midwestern states have entrenched unions, higher costs-of-living, and/or alternative models of public school funding and governance.
If teacher compensation is so attractive in these states, why are hundreds or thousands more North Carolina teachers not taking their talents elsewhere? Compensation may be an incentive for a North Carolina teacher to find a job in another state, but the ultracompetitive job market in many of them is a powerful disincentive.
Demographic and economic trends in these regions will continue to constrain the supply of teaching positions. Their population is declining and aging, shrinking the tax base and often necessitating reductions in staffing levels. Additionally, turnover is relatively low in all but a few urban school districts.
Just how hard is it to be hired as a public school teacher in states like New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio? Research organizations and media outlets agree that the teacher job markets in these and nearby states is brutal, mostly because local colleges and universities continue to supply more than enough teachers to fill vacant positions in the region. The National Council on Teacher Quality estimated that New York produces nearly three times as many teachers as the state needs to fill vacant positions. According to a 2012 Pittsburgh Tribune Review article, demand is so strong, and supply so low, that some prospective teachers must spend years as a substitute before they are hired full-time. StateLine recently reported that Ohio colleges alone produce about 1,000 more new teachers a year than is needed to meet the demand for teachers in the state.
As long as supply continues to outstrip demand, growing school districts in North Carolina will continue to recruit teachers from these states, not the other way around.
In 2012, New York’s state education agency reported to the federal government that none of its newly licensed teachers were trained in another state. In Pennsylvania and Ohio, around 11 percent of their newly licensed teachers were trained out of state. By comparison, a third of North Carolina’s newly licensed teachers were trained elsewhere.
I wish the best of luck to those who seek opportunities in other states. But those who believe that North Carolina teachers simply can march into higher paying jobs in other states either purposefully ignore the facts or simply do not care about them.
Dr. Terry Stoops is director of research and education studies at the John Locke Foundation.