TABOR will make North Carolina’s bleak teacher pay situation even worse

In case you missed it the other day, the Charlotte Observer ran one of the best essays yet on the disastrous consequences that North Carolina can expect if the ALEC-inspired “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” becomes embedded in the state constitution and what we ought to do instead.

Leslie WinnerIncrease teacher pay without TABOR

By Leslie Winner

I was talking to the superintendent of a small school system last fall, and she mournfully told me about losing her best high school math teacher to South Carolina, where he would earn $10,000 more per year for doing the same job. We all know young adults who would be good teachers, who would like to teach in North Carolina, and who won’t go into teaching, or who are leaving or won’t come to North Carolina, because we do not pay enough for a teacher’s family to live on. We all know of schools that will open this month without a qualified teacher in each classroom, that are facing a shortage of math, science, and foreign language teachers, because those schools cannot find enough qualified teachers to hire.

Almost all of us in North Carolina deeply believe that our public schools should prepare each child for a meaningful and productive life. Kids are different from each other, and each child deserves to get a year’s worth of growth for a year’s worth of school. Parents also deserve to be confident that their children will finish school prepared for the future. We know that to accomplish this, schools must have good teachers in each classroom and enough up-to-date textbooks and technology.

Since North Carolina is currently significantly behind in providing enough funding for teachers, textbooks, and technology, I was surprised to read that talk of TABOR, the so called “tax-payer bill of rights,” has resurfaced in the legislature. This proposed amendment to the state’s Constitution would both cap North Carolina’s income tax at 5%, helping those with higher incomes, and cost the state $1.5 billion a year in revenue. It would also limit increases in state spending, based on inflation and population growth, limiting North Carolina, effectively, to the amount we are spending now, with no room for improving public schools even in prosperous times.

We are fortunate to have thousands of effective, dedicated teachers in our schools. To keep them, and to attract new ones, we need to recruit smart young adults into the profession, provide the best with prestigious teacher scholarships, prepare them well, respect and support them as teachers, and pay them enough so they can support their families while they work as teachers. Currently, about half our teachers quit in their first five years. If we invested in recruiting, preparing, supporting, and paying them well, more would stay longer, reducing the number we need to hire each year, and allowing us to invest more into recruiting, preparing and supporting the next round of new teachers.

North Carolina has never been at the top of the pack on teacher pay, but in the 1990’s we decided to raise teacher pay by $1 billion over four years, bringing it to the national average. Student achievement soared! Now, because of the recession, years of no or minimal pay raises, and decisions like eliminating pay increases for masters’ degrees, pay levels have gotten worse, much worse. Currently, it takes 10 years before a new teacher earns $40,000 a year. The top pay, no matter how many years is $50,000. Enrollment in UNC’s teacher education programs has dropped 27% over the past five years. One education dean said her biggest challenge in recruiting smart college students into teaching is that their parents know they won’t earn enough to support their families as teachers.

North Carolina needs to increase teacher pay on average by $10,000 per year to reach the national average, so we can attract and keep qualified teachers for the classrooms of our future. That means we need to raise teacher compensation by about $1 billion per year, a big number. But having good teachers in our classrooms is important, and we could pay for this increase for less than TABOR would lower taxes on the most well off.

We’re stuck, however, if we adopt a constitutional amendment that reduces our income and caps our spending essentially at the current level. Why would we want a constitutional provision that would prevent us from deciding to make smart investments? Why would we want to prohibit our legislature from having and using available revenues to invest in teachers, textbooks and technology? Why would we want to tie our own hands?

Leslie J. Winner is the Executive Director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation and a former state senator from Charlotte.


  1. Brother Doc

    August 21, 2015 at 9:46 am

    It’s sad to say but the TABOR ideologues are perfectly happy to consign NC permanently to the status of Alabama or Mississippi. Their whole philosophy is to privatize everything and Ayn Rand is their guru-ess. How these people get away with calling themselves Christian to the dupes who vote for them I cannot understand. Perhaps they realize this, which is why they have to gerrymander themselves into safe districts and enact harsh voter suppression laws. We must get out the word. The only hope is more Moral Monday militancy and deliberate voter registration drives to enhance the opportunities to overthrow the current crop in Raleigh. Democratic candidates, please step up and know you can make a difference at every level in taking our government back!

  2. LayintheSmakDown

    August 21, 2015 at 10:06 am

    This is just silly crazy talk. TABOR done right would allow much more flexibility by limiting other areas like Medicaid that are taking valuable pay raises from teachers. When all areas are limited to the same metric that will leave a better pool to give regular raises based on inflation. Unfortunately this post is one more case of progressive whining because there is an initiative to limit their view that government should take every dollar from everyone and still come back asking for the next million because all is never enough.

  3. CutTheFat

    August 21, 2015 at 11:40 am

    Our teacher pay and per pupil spending are greatly different, which leads myself (someone whose profession is organizational effectiveness ) to wonder where there are opportunities to perform lean events. We are not #1 in performance of our children, so where are we failing at excellence in cost management and best practices. The surplus resources could then be used to improve the salaries of teachers… but that makes too much sense. Let’s just throw more resources at it, that’ll fix it!

  4. Geoffrey

    August 21, 2015 at 1:46 pm

    NC conservatives acknowledge that the implementation of TABOR in Colorado was a dismal failure but they have to follow through with proposing it because they just got back from the ALEC convention in California and they need to do a quid pro quo for all the fun they had in San Diego. NC conservatives are doing some great spin in order to promote TABOR. One gop spokesperson said – ‘The reason TABOR didn’t work in Colorado is because it is in the desert. NC is on the east coast – right on the ocean. The wet air helps lubricate taxes and therefore we know it will work in the great state of NC.’ As a conservative, you just have to believe REALLY REALLY hard and it will be so.

  5. renman

    August 21, 2015 at 6:53 pm

    Just one more step toward the ultimate goal of the GOP in NC: total privatization of public education. There simple mantra: if it doesn’t make a profit – cut it!

  6. Jo Anne Benware

    August 22, 2015 at 2:09 am

    This is sad. What kind of teachers will NC hire if they can not pay a livable salary. Public schools should have teachers with master degrees and pay them accordingly. Taxes have to be raised to insure that. This coming generation is not going to be well prepared for college, if , they can even get into a college. Does our governor want parents to home school? In that case salaries must be higher for other jobs so a parent can stay home and teach their children what they need to know to pass the SATs and other exams. People with money can afford to send their child to private school where the teachers are better paid and have the instruments of their trade, up to date school books, and what ever else they need. From what I see and hear history is changing and that is something that should not. It is what it is and we can not sugarcoat what went before us. Illegal hangings of black Americans on flimsy excuses, Jim Crow laws, a 14 year old black American child given the electric chair. Crying for his mother not understanding what was happening. All our history good and bad has to be learned so it is not repeated. The wars this country has been through. The ones we had to be in and the ones we should not have and the lies that put us into wars were we should not have been . This new math, I’m sorry it’s ridiculas, I don’t know who thought this one up but I think it just a waste of time. I can add and subtract the old way and never had a problem. English, first or second language has to be learned and our children should learn who the great writers were and are. Start teaching a second language in first grade, I truthfully don’t know when different languages are offered, but I didn’t start learning Spanish until seventh grade. That is too late, we need to start much earlier and offer more languages than French and Spanish, which is what I was offered. I grew up in the north in the Bronx. Out teachers did not have to pay out of their own pocket for supplies for their classrooms. NC should be a progressive state and show the other southern states how public school should be. This is not a contest. I am sure everyone wants our children to succeed in life, to get into good colleges without owing your life. We are a rich country regardless of what republicans say. We can afford to send our children to a community college for free and then let the young adults pay for higher education. Go for the BA or BS and then a masters and then if they want a doctorate. We need to help our young people to reach their potential. Not kill them with student loan debt so they have to go back and live with their parents. There should be very low interest rates for student loans, more grants, more of everything. To insure that our young people get the best education they can get. Charge the foreigners who come here to go to college. It most important we can not cheat our children if we want to keep up with the other powers of the world. Pay our teachers a good wage get new text books foe every grade. The world is constantly changing. We have to change with it or be left behind.
    I hope this is understandable it is after 2:00 am so please forgive any errors on my part in spelling or grammar, which were not my best subjects.

  7. Bill Prichard

    August 23, 2015 at 9:19 pm

    Did you really say TABOR done right?

    That doesn’t exist!

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