Two hundred million dollars for raises for North Carolina’s beginning teachers — a proposal put forth by Governor Pat McCrory.
Ten million dollars for the top performing 25 percent of North Carolina’s teachers – a plan put into law by the state legislature last summer.
Beginning this fall, that’s $210 million dollars for raises that could benefit roughly half of the teachers in North Carolina, ranging from only $500 a year to a few thousand dollars.
The other half of North Carolina’s teachers? They could receive no salary increases. Again.
At a time when no teacher in the state has received a meaningful increase in pay in at least five years, will these solutions be enough to attract and retain high quality teachers in North Carolina?
McCrory’s pitch for raising teacher pay
North Carolina’s teachers have received just one small raise of 1.2 percent during the past five years, which was offset for many by rises in health insurance premiums. For the second year in a row, the state ranks 46th in the nation in teacher pay.
Stagnant wages have caused many teachers to hit their boiling points, and there is widespread concern that the state can only look forward to a massive exodus of teachers who will seek considerably higher salaries in neighboring states like Tennessee, South Carolina and Virginia – unless lawmakers take quick action to bring teachers’ salaries up.
At a February news conference in Greensboro, Gov. Pat McCrory unveiled his plan for lawmakers to consider this spring that would boost the salaries for beginning teachers from where they are stuck at now — $30,800 – to $35,000 by 2015.
The rationale for his plan, which was endorsed by Senate and House leadership and would benefit at least 24,000 teachers but possibly more, was to make starting teacher pay more competitive nationally in an effort to attract more high quality teachers to the profession.
“There’s no greater investment we can make than in preparing our kids for the future, and there’s no question that high-quality teachers lead to better student achievement,” said McCrory, Forest, Berger and Tillis in a joint statement. “That’s why we are committed to boosting starting teacher pay to $35,000 over the next two years.”
The plan would cost the state roughly $200 million over the next two years, and McCrory promised to pay for the salary increases from additional and available revenues and would not raise taxes.
For veteran teachers who have been working for years without a raise and are struggling to make ends meet, McCrory billed the plan as a first step to improving salaries for all teachers and other state employees.
But it’s unclear when he may propose to provide salary increases for all.
“State leaders intend to announce pay increases for more teachers and state employees as the revenue outlook becomes clearer and available,” according to a statement released by the Governor’s office.
While the proposed pay increase for beginning teachers may go a long way in attracting new teachers to the profession, retaining those teachers and the veteran teachers who have already given many years of service to the state could be more difficult absent a pay increase for all.
Former Governor Jim Hunt put forth his own idea for compensating teachers – go back to the model he adopted during his tenure, when he brought teacher salaries up to the national average in just four years’ time.
Speaking to a task force on teacher compensation earlier this year, Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph) told those in attendance that, “large across-the-board and step increases are probably not going to happen.”
Governor McCrory campaigned on the idea that paying some teachers more than others based on student outcomes and certain subject areas was a good idea.
McCrory told WRAL back in 2012 that schools should pay more for those who teach in hard-to-staff subject areas such as a science and math (sometimes referred to as differential pay), and pay more to teachers whose students improve the most.
“We should reward the best teachers. The best teachers should get paid more than the mediocre.” While specific systems need to be developed, McCrory said, most parents, students and fellow teachers typically know who the “good teachers” are in any particular school.
The Governor has seen his hope for some version of merit pay come to fruition already, when lawmakers set aside $10 million to award four-year temporary contracts worth $500 annually to the state’s top 25 percent of teachers, beginning this summer.
The catch? Those teachers who are deemed eligible by their local districts and accept the contracts must relinquish their tenure, or due process rights. Tenure for all teachers will be gone by 2018.
Teachers are frustrated with the contract system for several reasons. Relinquishing tenure, which is not a guarantee of a job but rather a guarantee of a third party hearing in the event of demotion or dismissal, is not favored among educators, who see it as one of very few important protections for teachers in North Carolina.
And the process for selecting the top 25 percent of teachers leaves too much room for interpretation, say some.
Tim McNamara, a high school teacher in Durham, told NC Policy Watch last fall he had serious misgivings about the selection process for teacher contracts.
“So the superintendent will use my principal’s evaluation, which will be converted into points that may or may not qualify me for the 25 percent. But there’s no consistency there, because my principal could evaluate me differently than how another principal evaluates someone at another school,” said McNamara.
“Furthermore,” he said, “how do you rank someone who teaches honors level ACT students and compare that person with a teacher who deals with students in 9th grade remedial English?”
Forty of the state’s 115 school districts have passed resolutions opposing the state’s teacher contract system and the elimination of tenure. Two school districts, Guilford and Durham, have joined together in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of stripping teachers of their due process rights. The North Carolina Association of Educators is also suing the state over the loss of tenure. And many teachers across the state have indicated they don’t plan on accepting the contracts if they are offered them.
Most districts are reluctantly following the law and developing contracts, but some are adding back in due process protections for their teachers.
In recent weeks, Gov. McCrory has made remarks suggesting that he has heard teachers’ complaints and is considering putting forth his own proposal to revise the law mandating districts to award teacher contracts for the top 25 percent.
“I think it’s an example of passing a policy without clearly understanding the execution,” McCrory said.
McCrory says his staff will review the impact of the law between now and the short session in May, according to Raleigh news station WRAL.
“The Governor has said he has concerns and wants to look into the implementation of this law and others to ensure what’s best for kids and educators,” said Eric Guckian, the Governor’s senior education advisor in a call with NC Policy Watch on Wednesday.
“Teachers, superintendents, parents, and legislators are all partners in this, and there are not a lot of specifics yet, but we are working closely with all of those partners and should have specifics very soon,” said Guckian.
Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union) told Greensboro’s News & Record that lawmakers could delay implementation of the law while they seek funds to award the contracts to more than 25 percent of the state’s teachers.
But the prospect for reinstating tenure does not appear to exist. Sen. Tillman has said that while he’s not completely committed to the contracts, he won’t support the continuation of tenure.
A push for teacher pay increase for all
Last year, lawmakers authorized the creation of a task force to consider teacher compensation models that took into account teacher performance in the classroom.
That task force, which includes teachers, principals, lawmakers, and other education stakeholders, has met three times this year so far, and its members have considered a variety of pay-for-performance models.
Guilford County’s presented its own recruitment and retention tool that rewards teachers who demonstrate they are highly effective based on the state’s teacher evaluation system, EVAAS.
Task force members also heard from administrators of Washington, D.C.’s controversial IMPACT evaluation system, which was implemented in 2009 under the direction of the high profile education reformer Michelle Rhee.
While a recent study says that IMPACT has produced positive student outcomes, a cheating scandal that involved several teachers changing test scores took place as student test results went up during that time.
This week, task force members heard from a consortium of groups that represents parents, teachers, school boards and administrators. These groups came together to push the task force and lawmakers to consider a proposal that would include raises for all teachers, instead of a pay-for-performance based model.
Pay all teachers in accordance with their experience and what their step on the salary schedule should be, give raises to all teachers, reinstate master’s degree pay and protect public school budgets were the requests of the consortium.
“The proposal is not meant to be a replacement of McCrory’s plan,” cautioned Keith Poston of the NC Public School Forum, who presented the plan to task force members. “Rather, it should incorporate McCrory’s plan [to pay beginning teachers more], but also increase pay for all teachers to retain them. We were trying to say, ‘Let’s take care of urgent needs, but don’t stop looking at things like differential pay, etcetera’.”
Sen. Tillman, who presides over the task force, noted that the consortium’s plan came with no price tag.
Poston explained to NC Policy Watch that the consortium is working with staffers in the legislature’s Fiscal Research division to figure out what it would cost the state to provide pay increases for all teachers and reinstate supplemental pay for those teachers who have master’s degrees, which was eliminated last year.
While the price tag for paying all teachers more is sure to be higher than the $210 million that’s on the table now for increasing teacher salaries for some, the question before lawmakers will be is it worth it to make an investment in all of the state’s teachers – or will they invest solely in young teachers and teachers whose students do well on tests, at least initially?
The legislative session begins Wednesday, May 14 – stay tuned.
Education reporter Lindsay Wagner can be reached at 919-861-1460 or firstname.lastname@example.org