Dogged by what the Republican controlled General Assembly has done to public education in North Carolina, as thousands of North Carolinians protested cuts to teacher pay, Gov. Pat McCrory announced the creation of a Governor’s Teacher Advisory Committee Nov. 4. At its first meeting the next day on the SAS campus in Cary, SAS CEO Jim Goodnight said he was hopeful the General Assembly “will find some money to pay you [teachers] a little bit more. Some of the salary data is not very good.”
Last Wednesday J.J. Smith, News-Times sports reporter, said he had thought about being a teacher until this year and in his column, enumerated some of the problems:
• The General Assembly froze teachers’ salaries beginning with the 2008-09 school year so teachers haven’t received a raise for six years.
• A first-year teacher starting out six years ago with a bachelor’s degree made $30,800. And with salaries frozen, that teacher continues to make $30,800. If the General Assembly decided to end the salary freeze, it would still take 15 years for a teacher to reach $40,000.
• In the 2013 rankings, North Carolina was 46th in average teacher pay.
• Teachers’ salaries in North Carolina have shrunk nearly 16% since 2001, representing the biggest drop in the country.
• A master’s degree used to bump teachers-coaches’ pay nearly 10%. Not anymore.
• Though a few other states have talked about doing away with the automatic pay increase for advanced degrees, North Carolina is believed to be the first state to do so.
• The number of teachers leaving North Carolina last year more than doubled to 816 compared to 2010.
Other grievances were noted in our front-page story last Wednesday about the Nov. 4 “walk-ins:” ending tenure and class size limits, reducing teacher assistants and vouchers sending tax money to private schools, which some consider “unaccountable.”
“We stand united here today,” said Martha Swiber, White Oak Elementary advisory council chairman, organizer of the Croatan High School walk-in Nov. 4, “to tell state leaders that much of the recent public education policy and legislation does not put children first. It will hurt our economy and endanger this great state’s future.”
Last Thursday, N.C. Policy Watch Executive Director Chris Fitzsimon, said the N.C. Budget & Tax Center and the Education and Law Project of the N.C. Justice Center said many solutions can be found immediately if the political will is there.
But “Despite what you hear from the education establishment and the teachers’ unions,” said Sen. Phil Burger, Senate president pro tempore last week, “we’ve invested more in North Carolina’s public schools than any legislature in history. While we’ve cut overall government spending, balanced the state budget and streamlined programs and bureaucracy, we’ve actually increased the amount of state dollars going into our public schools.”
On a graph, he said K-12 state education appropriations for the last five years were:
“But money isn’t the only answer,” he said. “We don’t want to blindly throw funds at our schools, like the unions insist we do. We want to change policy and improve student outcomes. One of the ways we’ll do that in 2014 and 2015 is by restructuring the teacher pay system. Good teachers are the lynchpin to our education system. They’re absolutely critical to the success of our students. And they should be recognized and rewarded with higher pay and performance bonuses. At the same time, we want to make it easier for administrators to get the bad teachers out of our classrooms.”
But right now, as far as public education in North Carolina is concerned, Republicans and Gov. McCrory are getting short shrift. It’s a problem, or an opportunity, Gov. McCrory and the General Assembly have and must address — and sooner than better.