The looming teacher shortage that the General Assembly made worse

The looming teacher shortage that the General Assembly made worse

- in Fitzsimon File

classroom

It might not be a surprise given the decisions made by the General Assembly in the four years, but North Carolina faces a teacher shortage in the not too distant future and lawmakers keep doing things to make the problem worse.

The latest turnover reports show that just over 14 percent of teachers left North Carolina classrooms last year. That’s about the same as the year before but more of them left for other states than the previous year and more left for other professions where the compensation is better and they are treated with more respect.

And turnover is not the only problem. Fewer college students now want to be teachers.

Enrollment in education programs at UNC system campuses is down by 17 percent since 2010 and that doesn’t even include the 2014 numbers yet.

N.C. State had 1,179 students sign up for the education curriculum in 2010 and just 755 enrolled in 2013. The decline has been similar at almost every school.

It’s alarming on its own, but it’s a huge problem when you consider North Carolina’s steady population growth, especially in the urban areas. Veteran teachers are leaving and fewer college students seem interested in taking their place at the same time more students are showing up at schools.

None of this was unpredictable when you consider the last four years. As North Carolina emerged from the Great Recession and state revenues began to rebound after a 40 percent drop that resulted in frozen salaries and funding cuts, many educators surely assumed that pay raises and investments in classrooms would resume.

But the folks who took over the General Assembly had other ideas and priorities, most notably tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations.

For three years salaries barely budged even though it meant a starting teacher would have to work 16 years to make $40,000.  Funding for supplies was cut. Class size was increased. Teachers in early grades lost their teacher assistants.

There were no longer enough textbooks for every student, yet textbook funding was reduced.  Teachers were forced to buy supplies out of their own pockets, an absurd situation that legislative leaders themselves acknowledged by creating a small tax break for teachers who spent their own money on their classrooms.

Then adding insult to injury, the same legislative leaders repealed the tax break as part of “tax reform” in 2013 while again leaving teachers without a pay hike and slashing more money from education funding.

Finally, facing widespread public outrage in an election year, lawmakers found the money for a teacher raise—but not for everybody.  Some younger teachers received a significant raise while some veteran teachers barely received a raise at all. And more teacher assistants were cut.

It all doesn’t exactly inspire college students to line up for teacher training or convince veteran teachers to stay in North Carolina schools.

And it’s just not the pay and the funding. Republican legislative leaders have spent the last four years bashing teachers at every turn, pushing to end career status protections, holding an unannounced midnight session to punish the largest teacher association, even responding to teachers’ complaints with demeaning comments about their jobs and their “summers off.”

That’s a tough atmosphere in which to recruit bright students.  And the folks currently in charge in Raleigh didn’t stop there.

They abolished the nationally recognized N.C. Teaching Fellows program that provided college scholarships for students who agreed to spend at least four years in the classroom. More than 75 percent of Teaching Fellows have stayed in teaching past their four-year commitment.

It was a specific and well run and successful program that was bringing bright students into the classroom and the General Assembly ended it, apparently because of some petty animosity towards the nonprofit that was running it.

And now surprise, surprise, we face a teacher shortage—one of the many troubling legacies of the folks currently running things in Raleigh.