It’s about more than teacher salaries

It’s about more than teacher salaries

- in Fitzsimon File


Some teachers in North Carolina will get a raise next year. That seems like a foregone conclusion.

The questions now are how big the raise will be and which teachers will get it, how will Governor Pat McCrory and state lawmakers pay for it, and will they try to convince voters that increasing teacher pay by a few hundred dollars will make up for the deep cuts to education in the last several years?

McCrory talked about the teacher pay raise at his rambling news conference last week laying out his agenda for 2014. McCrory didn’t offer many details, other than to say he wanted to increase pay for starting teachers and come up with a way to pay the best teachers more, though he does not appear to have a plan in mind to evaluate teachers for prospective pay hikes.

The announcement comes as former Governor Jim Hunt is leading an effort to raise teacher pay to the national average, which seems like a good start.

North Carolina now ranks near the bottom of the 50 states and Virginia is openly recruiting North Carolina teachers to come across the border and earn more.

McCrory, despite his new found realization that teachers are underpaid, for some reason refused to endorse Hunt’s idea. Then later in the week Rep. Paul Stam issued a press release saying teachers could receive a raise this year if local school districts took advantage of flexibility lawmakers gave them and shifted money from other priorities—like helping at-risk kids—to pay teachers more.

McCrory hasn’t responded to Stam’s idea but it is a useful one, not as a public policy—it is a horrible plan—but as another reminder about what’s behind all this bluster about teacher pay from McCrory and his Republican colleagues currently running the General Assembly.

It is the same crowd that has slashed education funding across the board, from reducing the number of slots for NC Pre-K for at risk four-year-old to increasing class sizes and laying off teacher assistants to slashing funding for textbooks to obscenely low levels.

Textbooks cost from $35 to $85 per book, hard copy or digital. The budget passed by Stam and his fellow state lawmakers and signed by Governor McCrory provides a total of $15 per student for textbooks, less than half the cost of one book.

Classroom support for teachers has been cut too and so has funding for supplies. In 2011, state lawmakers created a state tax credit for teachers who were forced to buy supplies themselves, a remarkable admission that the state is not adequately funding public school classrooms.

The tax credit was repealed in the regressive tax shift passed last year, a signal that while they admit classrooms are underfunded, they would rather slash taxes on the wealthy and out of state corporations than do something about it.

Despite the talking points from the Right claiming otherwise, Governor McCrory and state lawmakers overall spent $100 million less this year on education than was needed to keep schools funded at the same level as last year.

Funding for public schools is down more than $500 million since 2007-2008 when adjusted for inflation. Classes are bigger, many teacher assistants are gone, support for teachers and students has been reduced.

Then there is the ill-advised end to career status for teachers and the insulting plan to give $500 bonuses to the top 25 percent of teachers in a school, a proposal that several school districts are rejecting because the damage from dividing a school far outweighs giving a little more money to a handful of teachers.

And to top it off, Stam and his colleagues also created a sketchy voucher scheme last year to divert money from public schools to almost completely unaccountable private and religious academies, many of which openly discriminate against gay students and teach bizarre fundamentalist theories about history and the age of the earth.

Add it all up and it’s hard not to get the feeling that the folks currently in charge in Raleigh are more worried about the public outrage about teacher salaries than actually helping the public school teachers who deserve to make more money.

Otherwise, state leaders would stop their crusade to dismantle public education and drop ridiculous ideas like raising teacher pay on the backs of at-risk kids.

Teachers need and deserve a raise—and a sizable one. Reaching the national average ought to be the floor not the ceiling.

But teachers and students also need and deserve state leaders dedicated to making sure public schools have the resources they need to do their jobs. They need real investments, not cynical political gestures.