On Tuesday, Governor Pat McCrory congratulated 450 teachers who gathered in Raleigh to be recognized for winning $10,000 bonuses in federal Race to the Top grant funds, at a time when the vast majority of the state’s 95,000+ have gone without raises and faced steep classroom cuts over the past several years.
“As Governor’s Teacher Network members, you will help develop your colleagues to ensure that students have access to high-quality education,”Gov. McCrory said. “Your commitment will increase our educational effectiveness and ultimately improve our ability to provide an excellent education to all North Carolina students.”
The Governor’s Teacher Network (GTN), funded with $6 million that was reallocated from the state’s federal Race to the Top grant, rewards teachers with bonuses of $10,000 for one year of service as instructional and professional development experts. Teachers who receive the bonuses must upload new lesson plans and classroom materials that they develop to a statewide database that any teacher can access and draw upon for their students.
“It’s materials for teachers, created by teachers,” said GTN recipient Amy Mathis, who is in her 13th year of teaching in Yadkin County. Mathis teaches autistic children at one of the county’s rural elementary schools and is the only person from her school who will receive the bonus for developing new classroom instructional materials.
The Governor’s Teacher Network is the final version of a plan that McCrory floated last summer, when he announced his intention to use $30 million of Race to the Top funds for an Education Innovation Fund that would reward the state’s top 1,000 teachers with $10,000 stipends.
That proposal was met with criticism by some members of the State Board of Education shortly after his announcement, who believed the focus should be on pay raises for all teachers, not pay bumps for a select few.
But McCrory pushed ahead with his plan, pleased that he could put some federal dollars directly in the hands of teachers.
“In the past, we had some federal funding that was always spent on consultants,” said McCrory. “And we said you know what? Why not spend it on the teachers?”
At her elementary school in Yadkin County, Mathis says morale is okay, but overall her colleagues feel that the teaching profession is under attack. Teachers haven’t received meaningful raises in six years, and there is a lot of frustration around not only that issue, but also the lack of classroom resources.
“Our kindergarten classes are the only ones with full time teacher assistants,” said Mathis. “First, second and third grade classrooms must share TAs, which is really handicapping them.”
The legislature is currently working through budget proposals for 2014 that have very different ideas on how to fund education in the short term. The Senate budget would give teachers a hefty 11 percent raise on average, but would cut back on teacher assistants, who have already suffered steep reductions, to the point of elimination in the second and third grades.
The House budget offers a more moderate 5 percent average raise for teachers and keeps current funding levels for teacher assistants.
But the two sides have not been able to agree on how to bridge the divide, leaving the possibility that teachers will once again be left empty handed this upcoming school year when it comes to a pay raise or increased classroom support.
Gov. McCrory, who has allied himself with Speaker Tillis in the budget fight, asked teachers at Tuesday’s event to urge Senate lawmakers to vote on the House spending plan, which he has billed as more responsible.
“We need you to get [the Senators] to vote [on the House budget proposal] and allow every senator…to vote on an education plan that is not only going to make a difference today…but for generations to come,” McCrory said.
McCrory also pushed once again for support for his Career Pathways proposal, which the House signed onto in its mini-education budget last week. The plan would reward teachers not only for experience, but for results in the classroom in the form of higher test scores and other measures.
On Wednesday Senators and House members met in an open conference committee to begin hashing out a budget together. While some agreements were made about Medicaid, education spending continues to be anyone’s guess.
Mathis figures she already works around 55 hours per week and the GTN bonus will probably require her to work another five to ten hours more a week, but she’s not sure.
“It’s hard to know how much more work this program will demand since we haven’t even started developing the materials yet,” said Mathis.
The Yadkin County teacher is excited about the prospect of making more classroom materials available statewide for her colleagues to use. Textbook funding has taken a very significant hit over the past several years – lawmakers nearly zeroed out the textbook budget back in 2010, dropping it from $116 million to just $2.5 million. Since then it has ticked up to $23 million, but schools haven’t been able to adopt next textbooks in five years or more.
Professional development for teachers has gone by the wayside too, and it’s possible that one of the few great options left for the state’s educators – the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT) will be eliminated as well.
Mathis says that while she’s grateful for the one-time grant funds, she’s still concerned about the greater context in which she is working.
“The main thing is that we want to feel like public education is no longer under attack. And to make that happen, we need more resources and a raise that’s not based on test scores,” said Mathis.
Cate Colangelo, who teaches in Johnston County and won a GTN award, believes the House budget proposal will get the state closer to where it needs to be.
“Giving an 11 percent raise to an elementary teacher and then making her work without a TA is basically just wasting money, in my opinion,” said Colangelo.
“I hope lawmakers think of the students first,” added Colangelo. “We’re asking for raises to keep quality educators in the classroom.”
Education reporter Lindsay Wagner can be reached at 919-861-1460 or [email protected]