N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson downplayed reports Friday that, despite campaign promises last year from state lawmakers, average teacher pay in North Carolina this year still falls shy of $50,000.
“I hope no one makes too much of a political issue about this, just missing it by about $150,” said Johnson, adding, however, that he views teacher raises as “definitely a priority this year.”
Johnson said he was confident state lawmakers would follow through on promises this year to lift average teacher pay to about $55,000, a goal he said he would help facilitate.
WRAL reported this morning that this year’s average pay came out to $49,837.
It’s worth noting N.C. Justice Center analyst Kris Nordstrom warned actual teacher pay would fall short of the $50,000 goal last November, although GOP officials scoffed at that report. (Disclosure: The N.C. Justice Center is the parent nonprofit of N.C. Policy Watch).
Teacher pay has been a major campaign issue in recent years as the state plummeted in national rankings of educator salaries.
The newly-elected GOP superintendent also expressed his support for President Trump’s controversial nominee for U.S. education secretary, Michigan school choice advocate Betsy DeVos.
“She puts students over a system that’s been doing the same thing for 100 years,” said Johnson.
Friday’s meet in Winston-Salem was a rare gathering with media for Johnson since the new superintendent took over the seat held by longtime Superintendent June Atkinson this year.
Since then, he’s been relatively press-shy, skipping highly publicized events like the Public School Forum’s annual “Eggs & Issues” event last month, participating in few media interviews and declining multiple interview requests from Policy Watch.
Friday’s media session came after he excluded reporters from joining the first stop on his listening tour beginning Friday morning in Winston-Salem, with his office reportedly saying school officials didn’t want to disrupt students.
Details are still unconfirmed on the remainder of that tour, at the completion of which the superintendent has said he plans to return with “action items” for public school reforms.
Nevertheless, Johnson addressed the media and took a handful of questions Friday, addressing far-reaching topics such as private school vouchers, classroom tech, vocational education, a pending court battle between state lawmakers and the State Board of Education and, of course, DeVos.
Trump’s nominee, a powerful GOP donor, is likely to face a nail-bitingly close Senate confirmation in the coming days after the reported defection of a pair of Republicans.
Johnson, similar to DeVos, has approached the job as something of an outsider to public education. He taught in a Charlotte high school for two years before becoming a corporate attorney in Winston-Salem and winning a seat on his local school board in 2014.
In his media address Friday, he emphasized “innovation” as key to his public education reforms, weeks after he told members of the State Board of Education that he would fix what he described as an “outdated” public school system.
Meanwhile, Johnson indicated the GOP-dominated General Assembly was right when it voted during a surprise special session in December to shift new powers from the State Board of Education to the newly-elected Republican’s office. The state board is filled with appointees of the governor’s office, which is now occupied by Democrat Roy Cooper.
“I was the one on the statewide ballot,” Johnson said.
State board members, meanwhile, decried the move as unconstitutional, while public school advocates described the legislative changes as a blatant power grab.
Johnson also expressed his support for vouchers, the use of public dollars to fund scholarships to private schools in North Carolina, many of which are religious-based. Critics say private schools lack accountability and have been known to discriminate against some, particularly against the LGBTQ community.
However, Johnson said he believes private school accountability is guaranteed by parents who can simply pull their students from a school if they’re not satisfied.
At Friday’s stop, Johnson also re-emphasized his backing of tech in North Carolina classrooms, advocating for teachers to deploy computers programs to assist in classroom learning.
The superintendent added that his office would be establishing an official Facebook page so teachers could provide feedback to his office on tech.