North Carolina lowers rate of teacher attrition

By Julie Havlak

Raleigh, NC – Before the coronavirus pandemic shuttered schools, more teachers were staying in North Carolina’s classrooms.

woman in red long sleeve writing on chalk board
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

North Carolina succeeded in lowering its teacher-attrition rate, even after its budget stalemate froze teacher pay. The state lost only 7.53% of its 94,410 teachers in the past reporting year. 

No one knows how the coronavirus pandemic and remote learning will affect the state’s ability to keep teachers in the classrooms. The state has yet to release that data. 

Just 7,110 teachers left the profession from March 2019 to March 2020, according to a draft report to the General Assembly. That’s better than the 7.59% attrition rate of 2018-19, and a significant improvement from 8.1% attrition recorded during the 2017- 2018 reporting year.

“It’s encouraging that the teacher turnover continues to decrease,” said Terry Stoops, John Locke Foundation vice president for research and director of education studies. “It’s a testament to the work of the Republican General Assembly, which has tried to make teacher recruitment and retention a priority.”

Teachers have been waiting on raises ever since budget negotiations collapsed in 2019. Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, vetoed teacher pay raises in the budget, demanding Medicaid expansion and objecting to the amount of teachers’ pay raises. 

Republicans tried again. They passed mini-budgets to give preK-12 teachers a 3.9% raise, as well as boosting the salaries of community college and university employees. They also passed cost-of-living adjustments for state retirees. 

Cooper vetoed them all.

The lower attrition rate is the product of the legislature’s focus on teacher turnover, says Stoops.

“The opponents of the Republican majority in the General Assembly claim that the report shows that teachers are dissatisfied and that the legislature isn’t doing enough to make sure they stay in the classroom,” Stoops said. “But the evidence isn’t bearing that out.”

No one knows how the coronavirus and the shutdowns will change classrooms. The pandemic stoked fears that at-risk teachers would retire early instead of returning to the classroom. 

But Stoops is optimistic. 

“I don’t believe that COVID is going to play a major role in generating extraordinary attrition,” Stoops said. “School districts were really good at accommodating those teachers and making sure they weren’t exposed to students in in-person classrooms. They were able to preclude some of the turnover that may have otherwise occurred.”