Teacher pay plan falls short

Feb. 17, 2014 @ 04:21 PM

After months of criticism of policies and budget decisions that have gravely demoralized North Carolina teachers, Gov. Pat McCrory and General Assembly leaders last week began to address some of that criticism.

McCrory, with Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and legislative leaders by his side, unveiled plans to boost pay for beginning teachers by nearly 14 percent over the next two years, to $35,000 annually.

For reasons both practical and philosophical, that is in many ways – but far from all – welcome news.  Our pay for beginning teachers, stuck for years, is barely adequate for the task we ask of them – and among the lowest in the nation. And we will face an escalating need to recruit new teachers. North Carolina is likely to hemorrhage experienced teachers in the light of hostile state policy and, with the state’s schools of education turning out too few teachers to meet even today’s annual demand, keeping freshly minted teachers here and attracting those from other states is critical.

But the governor’s plan “is solving only one hole in the dike,” as State Rep. Rick Glazier, a Fayetteville Democrat, told the Emerging Issues Forum in Raleigh last week.

Many critics have pointed to the upshot of a significant raise in new-teacher salaries without any adjustment for veteran teachers. While nearly 35,000 of the state's 95,000 teachers would benefit from the promised increases, another 60,000 would not.

Many of those veteran teachers would find themselves making scarcely more than someone with only a few years experience. Couple that with the end of career status, the elimination of a salary bonus for earning an advanced degree and the elimination of funds to pay senior teachers for mentoring younger ones, and the picture is deeply discouraging for long-time teachers.

Education author and critic Diane Ravitch last week spoke disapprovingly of North Carolina’s “bias against experience.” In a talk to educators and community leaders here the day after she delivered a similar message to the issues forum, she described North Carolina as “a place right now where educators aren’t respected.”

In fairness to McCrory and the legislative leadership, the stagnation of teacher salaries started on the watch of his Democratic predecessor, Beverly Perdue.  Also to be fair, he has promised to consider raises for all teachers and other state employees. But those promises have been vague, and even an across-the-board pay increase would leave unaddressed other troubling issues.

Glazier, at the forum, argued that “any system has to be fair, sustainable and comprehensive. The governor’s plan meets none of those criteria.”

Sadly, that is true. We would hope the governor and his legislative leadership, now that they have begun to acknowledge the problem, would find a far more broad-based effort to improve the climate and compensation for our public school teachers.

That is unlikely, given they are pursuing policies they have long held dear to, in their view, reform education.

What is more likely is that voters will need to think long and hard about who they want to send, or send back, to Jones Street this fall.