Fitzsimon File

The bad and worse reviews for McCrory’s teacher pay plan

McCrory2-10-2014

The reviews for Governor Pat McCrory’s proposal to give only a third of teachers in North Carolina a raise next year are still coming in and the news is not good for the governor.

Other than the predictable remarks from his partisan supporters and the think tanks funded by his state budget director, most of the reactions to McCrory’s plan fall into one of two categories, neither of them supportive.

Some people agree that starting teachers need a raise but are appalled by McCrory’s decision to do nothing for 60,000 veteran teachers who are also among the lowest paid in the country in their profession. And those are the reviewers giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Others see the whole plan as a cynical ploy to deflect some of the sharp criticism of McCrory and legislative leaders not only for their disregard for low teacher pay, but for the recent dismantling of public education with deep budget cuts, an end to career status for teachers and the creation of voucher scheme to divert public school funding to almost completely unaccountable private and religious schools.

Teachers are popular with the public. So are public schools in general. Vouchers are not. Neither are bigger classes, fewer teacher assistants, and a shortage of textbooks.

McCrory apparently felt like he had to do something to get some positive headlines about education—to show that he cares—so he proposed raising the base pay for teachers from $30,800 to $33,000 next fall and $35,000 the year after that.

Veteran teachers get nothing and there was no mention of restoring some of the massive cuts to public schools made in the last few years and in the budget that McCrory enthusiastically signed last summer.

The timing of McCrory’s announcement seems to support the theory that it was as much about politics as education policy. There’s no reason to announce a pay plan in early February before budget officials have a handle on state revenues for the year.

Governors traditionally set their spending priorities when they release their budget and McCrory will presumably have budget recommendations for state lawmakers this spring in advance of the General Assembly session that begins in May.

McCrory said when he announced the raise for only a third of teachers that more pay hike proposals were possible if the money was available.

That raises the question of how McCrory plans to pay for the raises for starting teachers that will cost more than $200 million. He didn’t say specifically but promised it would not require a tax increase. Most likely the money would come from the $250 million lawmakers set aside in the budget they passed last year, but that’s only a short term solution.

Republicans for years chastised Democrats for the unwise practice of using one time money to pay for ongoing expenses like salary increases, but that appears to be McCrory’s idea that was heartily endorsed by House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger.

And if the plan all along was to use that money for salary increases, why didn’t teachers receive it this year?

And just as importantly what about state employees, many of whom worked around the clock clearing highways and manning emergency services during the recent snowstorm?

None of them have received a meaningful raise in quite a while either, with the exception of a few categories of workers McCrory hand selected for an increase.

But there was no word from McCrory about a pay hike for rank and file state employees. This announcement was about education remember—responding to the polls showing that voters don’t appreciate the disdain for public schools shown by the folks currently in charge in Raleigh.

One of the more telling moments of this week’s announcement came when Tillis suggested that Republican leaders deserved credit for realizing that they made a mistake when it came to ending the pay supplement for teachers who earn master’s degrees.

That decision was roundly attacked by educators and advocates alike as yet another attack on teachers. Tillis said the General Assembly would change the law to allow students who earned their advanced degree by July 1st of 2013 to receive the pay supplement, in effect moving back the effective date of the law by a couple of months but still ending the supplement for teachers who earn a master’s degree.

That’s what passes for support for educators in Tillis’ and McCrory’s book, as does cynically proposing that only new teachers receive a pay raise.

The other 60,000 teachers will just have to get over it. State employees will too. But remember Governor McCrory really, really cares about public schools. Can’t you tell?