Raising and Transforming Principal Pay in North Carolina
January 11, 2018

Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action


Principals in North Carolina could see as much as a 10 percent raise during the 2017-18 school year—an unprecedented increase in North Carolina and the Southeast. Business for Educational Success and Transformation (BEST NC) championed principal pay during their 2017 legislative session working closely with business leaders and lawmakers to build data-driven arguments, strategic partnerships, and communications campaigns that helped make the new salary schedule a reality. In a space where little data exists on innovative best practices, BEST NC turned to their members—North Carolina business leaders—who were able to provide valuable data on executive compensation.

Here, Julie Kowal, BEST NC’s vice president of policy and research, explains how the private sector helped make the case for school leaders.

Raising and Transforming Principal Pay in North Carolina

By Julie Kowal, Vice President of Policy and Research, BEST NC

At BEST NC, we believe principals are the superheroes of our public schools. State investments in school leaders have been one of BEST NC’s priorities since our founding because, as business leaders, our members know the value of great leadership. Decades of research also demonstrate leaders’ critical importance in schools.

BEST NC’s top legislative goal for 2017 was to make meaningful, sustained and strategic investments in school leader compensation. We were thrilled that in 2017…

North Carolina invested $25 million to raise principal pay by an average of 10 percent in a single year, built on a nation-leading, student-focused foundation.

Under North Carolina’s old salary plan, principals’ pay had no correlation with student success. Our state also had one of the highest turnover rates in the country, in large part because principals had to move to a larger school to get a meaningful raise. North Carolina now pays every principal using a simplified salary schedule based on school size and principals’ contributions to student growth. Eighty-five percent of principals received a significant raise in the 2017-18 school year, and going forward will earn the biggest salary bumps in positions where they are most effective. A bonus system also provides incentives for leading a low-performing school.

This advocacy win brought out the best of BEST NC, drawing upon the power of the business voice, authentic partnerships with our statewide peers, compelling communications campaigns, and the organization’s strong reputation for non-partisan and data-driven advocacy.

The Power of the Business Voice

BEST NC members were the most powerful element of our advocacy strategy, engaging in every step of our principals campaign. More than 45 HR executives from member companies provided best practices on executive compensation. Twenty BEST NC members signed a letter to the Governor and Legislative leadership, advocating for a $50-60 million multi-year investment in an updated, student-focused pay schedule. Many members met individually with lawmakers to support their proposed investments in principals; and BEST NC members authored editorials that circulated statewide in support of sustained and strategic increases in principal pay.

Strategic Partnerships

BEST NC leveraged partnerships with individual principals, the state Principals and Assistant Principals Association, and superintendents’ advocates this year to advance our shared priorities in NC’s new principal pay plan. Though we did not agree on every detail, we identified overlapping priorities and used collective advocacy to dramatically increase the state’s overall investment in principal salaries and minimize potentially harmful new policies. Our regular, open conversations with school principals and their advocates throughout the process were critical both to a strong policy and to our successful advocacy.

Compelling Campaigns

We supported our direct advocacy this year with a campaign, Let’s Go to the Principal’s Office, designed to illustrate the importance of school principals. Our live and animated videos, media toolkits, op-eds and social media messaging helped to broaden the movement and build momentum for much-needed increases in principal pay.

Data-driven Advocacy

We are an evidence-driven organization, and strive to ground our advocacy agenda and specific policy recommendations in research, proven innovations and facts. Nationwide, there is very little innovation in principal compensation and even less research about effective alternatives to the ubiquitous step-and-lane schedule. We built our recommendations, therefore, on analogous practices from the private sector, as well as the first—to our knowledge—statewide analysis of how North Carolina’s 2,500 principals were previously paid. It remained critical to our credibility at the Legislature and among partner advocates to ground our recommendations in unbiased facts and analysis.

With any major change come questions. That’s why BEST NC partnered with EducationNC to create a principal pay calculator where principals can calculate their approximate salaries under the new pay schedule. While school leaders should direct all questions to their district HR department, advocates are using this tool to help people understand the new plan.

Interested in learning more about BEST NC’s work on principal pay? Reach out.



Julie Kowal

Julie is BEST NC's Vice President of Policy and Research

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