Politics & Government

Will NC teachers once again get extra pay for master’s degrees? Plan has bipartisan support.

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A time-lapse video shows NC teachers marching to Legislature in Raleigh, N.C. calling for better pay and funding for public schools Wednesday, May 16, 2018.
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A time-lapse video shows NC teachers marching to Legislature in Raleigh, N.C. calling for better pay and funding for public schools Wednesday, May 16, 2018.

Some North Carolina teachers might get rewarded with extra money for their master’s degree after state lawmakers cut off the benefit to educators who weren’t already in the program.

Senate Bill 28 filed Wednesday would restore master’s pay for teachers as long as they get their degree in the subject that they’re teaching. The bill has quickly gotten bipartisan support as a way to recognize teachers while being more narrowly tailored than what was previously offered.

“It can definitely have some good impact and I don’t think the fiscal impact will be large,” said Sen. Danny Britt, a Republican from Robeson County, and one of the bill’s two primary sponsors.

Sen. Rick Horner, a Wilson Republican who was recently named Senate Education Committee co-chairman, is the bill’s other primary sponsor.

Historically, teachers with master’s degrees received a 10 percent salary increase paid for by the state. But the Republican-led state legislature eliminated the benefit in 2013, saying teachers should be paid based on performance and not on their credentials.

Teachers who already were receiving the extra pay before the 2014-15 school year or who had completed at least one course before Aug. 1, 2013, and went on to get their master’s degree were grandfathered.

Various bills have been filed since then to restore the master’s degree pay.

In 2017, Britt and Horner filed a similar bill to restore master’s pay for both teachers and instructional support personnel, but the legislation died in committee. Britt said they didn’t include instructional support staff in this year’s bill to ease concerns of lawmakers worried about the additional cost.

Mark Jewell, president of the N.C. Association of Educators, said the group wishes lawmakers would fully restore the old master’s degree pay supplement. But he said the new bill is a step in the right direction.

“I’m glad they’re recognizing that a master’s degree does make a difference,” he said.

Restoring extra pay for advanced degrees was among the messages from the thousands of educators who marched in Raleigh in the May rally organized by NCAE.

On Wednesday May 16, 2018, the opening day of the legislative session, educators and their supporters from across the state traveled to Raleigh to demand more funding for public education.

Jewell said it makes sense for the state to offer extra pay for master’s degrees since neighboring states still pay teachers for their advanced degrees. Jewell cited how he decided to teach in North Carolina instead of South Carolina or Georgia because of the 10 percent pay bump for his advanced degree.

“It shows you value your employees and their professional development,” Jewell said.

Several Democratic and Republican senators have joined on as co-sponsors to the bill.

“This is a common-sense bill; and it should get bipartisanship support,” Sen. Jay Chaudhuri. a Raleigh Democrat, tweeted Thursday as he announced he would be joining as a co-sponsor.

This bill is more limited in which teachers can get paid for their advanced degrees. For instance, Britt said it doesn’t include teachers who get a master’s degree in administration that they’d need to become an assistant principal or principal.

The bill says that teachers can get the master’s pay if their degree is in their field within the area of their teaching license. Teachers can lose the extra pay if they spend less than 70 percent of their time teaching courses in their subject area.

In 2013, critics of paying teachers more for advanced degrees questioned the value.

On Thursday, Chaudhuri pointed to two different studies showing that having a graduate degree has a positive impact on student achievement and teacher evaluations.

Britt said he knows firsthand how master’s degrees can help improve student learning since his wife is a teacher.

“A lot of the studies do show that students of teachers who have master’s degrees in their subject field do perform better on tests,” he said.

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.

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