In honor of National Teacher Appreciation Week, I thought I’d focus my first blog post on the most obvious way North Carolina shows its appreciation (or lack thereof) for teachers: the North Carolina teacher salary schedule. In particular, let’s take a closer look at Governor McCrory’s 2016-17 Proposed Teacher Salary Schedule.
On the positive side, the McCrory administration has been refreshingly honest in its description of this salary proposal, touting it as an average pay increase of 5%. While McCrory proposes providing a number of one-time bonuses to teachers in FY 2016-17, the dollars for these bonuses are not included in the 5% figure. While not all teachers would receive a salary increase under the governor’s plan, the average teacher would indeed receive a recurring salary increase of 5%.
Also, a 5% salary increase is decent. Of course, a 5% salary increase is insufficient to bring teacher salaries to the national average, or to equal the inflation-adjusted average salaries of years’ past. However, if North Carolina made a sustained effort to increase teacher salaries 5% per year every year, rather than just in election years, North Carolina’s teacher salaries would eventually surpass the national average (though it would likely take nearly ten years).
Within McCrory’s teacher salary schedule there are faults, however.
Most notably, it ignores research on the optimal shape of a teacher salary schedule, it fails to meet the administration’s own purported goal of improving retention of beginning teachers, and it continues to fail in providing salary increases to North Carolina’s most experienced teachers.
Researchers are nearing consensus that teacher salary schedules ought to increase quickly in early years and level off in later years. Such a pay structure improves retention of early-career teachers and makes the teaching profession more competitive with other professions. In contrast to the research-based approach, McCrory’s proposed salary schedule offers smaller step increases in early years, and provides larger increases in later years
Governor McCrory’s Senior Education Advisor, Catherine Truitt, concedes the point that a salary schedule should focus on retaining early-career teachers. At the April 28th House Appropriations Committee on Education meeting, Truitt referenced research her office had conducted with the help of SAS, indicating that North Carolina loses most teachers in years 0-14. Truitt indicated that McCrory’s proposed salary schedule is designed to reduce attrition in these years. Despite Truitt’s claims that the schedule was designed to improve retention in years 0-14, the proposal does the opposite:
Finally, North Carolina’s most experienced teachers would again lose out under McCrory’s proposal. McCrory’s proposal would continue to cap the maximum annual State salary for teachers with a bachelor’s degree at $50,000. Teachers with 25 or more years of experience would not receive a salary increase in the upcoming school year under McCrory’s plan, despite a growing body of evidence that teacher effectiveness continues to improve in these later years. The proposed schedule would cap salaries of teachers with 20 or more years of experience in future years.
If North Carolina policymakers want to demonstrate their appreciation for teachers, they will need to improve upon this initial proposal from Governor McCrory. That is, they will enact a salary schedule that increases quickly in the early years and levels off in later years, while still providing salary increases for more experienced teachers. Such a schedule will almost certainly require additional funding, requiring legislators to forego yet another round of tax cuts benefiting the wealthy and profitable corporations. But by implementing a schedule reflecting the best available research, policymakers can guarantee that the dollars spent on teacher salaries will more efficiently improve teacher recruitment and retention as compared to proposals such as the McCrory plan, which ignore the best available evidence.