When it comes to educating our children, the public is pretty clear in understanding you get what you pay for.
In a recent poll released by High Point University, 72% of respondents said they would favor a tax increase to raise teacher pay in North Carolina to the national average. These results are similar to a Public Policy Polling survey conducted in November which revealed that 68% of North Carolinians opposed cutting funding for public schools to provide taxpayers a tax cut.
Despite North Carolinians’ willingness to pay to ensure adequate funding of our public schools so that children can be better prepared for a 21st century economy, legislators moved in the opposite direction this past legislative session. Not only were teachers, whose salaries ranked 46th in the nation in 2012, denied a pay increase this year, but the salary incentive for teachers who earn master’s degree was eliminated and additional cuts were made to professional development and recruitment programs.
The legislature further undermined the ability of public education to prepare children for their future by reducing funds available for instructional supplies and textbooks, increasing teacher to student ratios and cutting funding for teacher assistants.
Governor McCrory and Budget Director Art Pope have instead suggested cutting other areas of the budget to pay for a teacher pay increase by urging agencies to identify 2 percent reductions to their budget areas.
This is not only unpopular but an unnecessary move. It turns out hundreds of millions could be saved simply by stopping future income tax rate reductions that were passed into law last year. The personal income tax rate that was reduced to a flat tax rate for 2014 of 5.8% is scheduled for another reduction to 5.75% in 2015.
Stopping this rate reduction would provide about $106 million in additional revenue. The corporate income tax rate was reduced in 2014 from 6.9% to 6%, and it also is scheduled for further reductions to as low as 3% by 2017 if certain revenue triggers are met. If these rate reductions were stopped from falling below 6%, around $487 million could be saved. The savings from preventing further rate reductions alone would get us closer to aligning NC teacher pay with the national average.
North Carolina has a long legacy of understanding the importance of high quality public education. And North Carolinians know that high quality does not come on the cheap. By investing in teachers and quality classroom experiences, we can achieve better student outcomes.
Making these investments to recruit and retain good teachers is possible and it’s not rocket science. There is revenue available to pay teachers better so that all North Carolina children are better prepared to meet the challenges of tomorrow.