Is North Carolina a net exporter of teachers?

Sep. 28, 2013 @ 12:43 PM

At a meeting of Governor McCrory’s education cabinet recently week, Andre Peek, director of Global Technology Services at IBM and chair of the North Carolina Business Committee for Education asserted that North Carolina is now a “net exporter of teachers.”

It’s an observation Peek has made from working groups in which he has participated and in his travels across the state. It’s not rooted in data – yet, he told N.C. Policy Watch.

As teachers face another school year with no raises, fewer resources with which to teach their students, and the disappearance of tenure, the question looms.

Will teachers come to teach—and will they stay—in North Carolina?

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Countless stories in the media and from the mouths of lawmakers, parents, students and teachers tell the story of the state of the profession for educators in North Carolina.

“Without a doubt, we are both thinking of leaving the state,” Frankie Santoro told NC Policy Watch at a Moral Monday event this summer about himself and his friend, Sara Thompson, both public school teachers in Forsyth County. “And we believe there will be a mass exodus of teachers from North Carolina.”

The state ranks 46th in the nation in teacher salaries, according to salary data from the National Education Association. And North Carolina is dead last in the change in teachers’ salaries over the past decade – teacher’s salaries dropped 16 percent during that period, compared with the national average of a three percent decline.

There has been one meager 1.2 percent raise, which was given to all state employees, during the past seven years – which has done little to offset the rising cost of living and increased health insurance premiums.

This year, lawmakers decided once again to put educators’ salaries on ice.

Teachers not only grapple with reduced budgets at home, but also in their classrooms. Significant cuts to instructional supplies over the past several years have left teachers with little choice but to dig into their own wallets for paper, markers, books and other teaching materials.

And it’s not just supplies – many educators in North Carolina teach students living in abject poverty. When students come to school soaked in urine and hungry, teachers once again open their hearts and wallets to get those students extra food and clean clothes so they can actually learn that day.

Elementary school teachers rely heavily on teacher assistants to manage their classrooms and ensure learning gains, especially at a time when lawmakers have lifted the cap on class size. For the 2013-15 biennial budget, funding for 1 in 5 teacher assistants was cut. Some school districts have been able to save jobs with local funds, but many more have been forced to cut those positions from classrooms.

Cabarrus County alone lost 107 teacher assistant positions for the 2013-14 school year.

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It’s hard to know just yet how many educators will leave North Carolina – or the profession – thanks to the actions of this year’s General Assembly.

Last year’s Teacher Turnover Report published by the Department of Public Instruction showed a slight uptick from the previous year: in 2011-2012, the system-level turnover was 12.13 percent — slightly higher than the 11.17 percent reported for 2010-2011.

Data examining 2012-13 won’t be released until early November, and even then it will be a while before we fully know the impact that lawmakers’ decisions will have had on teachers.

“I think the fallout will be more evident next year and in the years to come,” said Barbara Levin, a professor in the Department of Teacher Education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. “All the legislative changes that are negatively impacting teachers and teaching are only a few months old. Teachers are just trying to do their jobs the best they can.”

Classroom funding cuts and low teacher salaries are not the only things causing morale to plummet and teachers to consider leaving. Lawmakers also cut a salary supplement for teachers who obtain advanced degrees, which amounts to around a 10 percent boost to their pay.

Gov. Pat McCrory told State Board of Ed members he found money in his budget to at least make sure all teachers who had already begun a graduate program would still receive the salary supplement. But he had to renege on his promise when board members explained that they didn’t have the power to change the recently passed law in order to accommodate his wishes.

CJ Flay, a teacher at North Iredell Middle School in Olin, told N.C. Policy Watch that he emailed his professors at Appalachian State University to express his disappointment about nixing the salary supplement for advanced degree holders.

“With the current decision to stop paying for master’s degrees I know I would never have gone on to pursue my degree if that decision had been made prior to August 2006,” said Flay in his letter. He said that his wife, also a teacher, has made the difficult decision not to pursue a master’s degree thanks to the cost.

Teachers can also look forward to being evaluated on the basis of their students’ performance on standardized tests – although that has been kicked down the road a bit.

The cap on class size was lifted completely by lawmakers during the last session. One high school teacher in New Bern told local lawmakers at a town hall meeting this week that she had an average of 37 students in each of her three high school classes.

The incentives to become a teacher and continue in the profession are falling away, one by one.

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Going on strike is not an option for educators because their employment contracts prohibit them. But some are considering a walkout Nov. 4th to protest their working conditions.

Teachers may not be inclined to join in this political protest, however, because North Carolina’s teachers do not have union protections and, thanks to the removal of tenure, can be dismissed more easily.

If teachers can’t get their voices heard through rallies, walkouts or even lawsuits, which the North Carolina Association of Educators promises to file to fight back against the actions of the General Assembly, then educators may be forced to choose the only remaining option: Pack up and leave.

At the teacher-themed Moral Monday event in July, one Chapel Hill educator said she planned to leave the state (her name is withheld because she feared retaliation for speaking out).

“This continued lack of raises for teachers…means I basically have to leave the state. I can’t afford to teach here,” she said.

Where will she go?

“Probably to an education-friendly state up north,” she said.

Education reporter Lindsay Wagner can be reached at 919-861-1460 or lindsay@ncpolicywatch.com.