Serious start on teacher pay

May. 08, 2014 @ 06:02 PM

North Carolina teachers, feeling under assault and underappreciated for several years, had some reason to hope that could be changing Wednesday.

Gov. Pat McCrory laid out proposals to give teachers only their second pay raise in six years and to dramatically overhaul teacher compensation – including a number of paths to higher earnings -- in the next few years.

The plan met with cautious support from local superintendents and business leaders who joined McCrory for the plan’s unveiling in Greensboro. The N.C. Association of Educators, while criticizing the salary increase as too little, nonetheless had positive words about the broader proposals.

“The governor’s plan reflects several ideas our staff shared with his staff several months ago,” the NCAE said in a statement. “We look forward to working in support of a fair and workable salary schedule for the future.”

McCrory’s plan is notable for several points. He has responded to the criticism of his earlier proposal to boost pay only for early-career teachers. He has consulted with educators, and the proposal envisions further working with local school districts to flesh out details of the “career pathways” he is proposing.  Ideas will be tested in pilot programs and local districts will get some flexibility.

McCrory indicated support for at least partially reinstating extra pay for graduate-level degrees and for increasing the state’s decimated textbook budget – albeit to levels still well below just five years ago.

The proposal would boost pay for all state employees, an important recognition that far more than teachers’ have been hurting.

The governor used the backdrop of Teacher Appreciation Week to laud teachers’ contributions and to pledge his support of them. Empty rhetoric about teachers’ importance is common in Raleigh, but we credit McCrory with a thoughtful, constructive plan to address the woeful state to which teacher pay has sunk.

But the plan faces considerable hurdles. It’s unclear what its fate will be in a General Assembly that has been notably cool whenever McCrory’s better instincts have surfaced. House and Senate leaders who flanked the governor for the early-career pay increase were notably absent Wednesday, and McCrory’s record for exerting his will on a legislature controlled by his own party has been spotty.

And barring a reversal of the legislature’s fiscally disastrous tax cuts, it is hard to see where the money could come from to meet the immediate costs of McCrory’s plan – much less to sustain them year after year with the shrunken revenue picture.

State Rep. Larry Hall of Durham, the House minority leader, was perhaps unsurprisingly critical of McCrory’s plan Wednesday. The state “needs a bold plan that includes significant pay raises for our teachers and puts North Carolina on a path to reaching the national average,” he said.

We don’t disagree. But Hall dismisses too reflexively a plan that does have elements of boldness and that, while not all that we might want, elevates the debate. It’s a serious start to a serious discussion of how to fix teacher pay that has become embarrassingly inadequate.