Commentary

Governor’s poor salesmanship allows General Assembly to confuse the teacher pay debate

N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper

Imagine getting two job offers. The first job offer would provide a raise of ten percent while the second would provide a raise of 9.6 percent. Obviously, a full ten percent raise is better, but it’s probably fair to describe both offers as “effectively the same.”

According to the North Carolina Republican party, North Carolina’s teachers are facing the above scenario. Press releases from the Republican Senate and House Caucuses claim that the just-passed General Assembly budget will provide teachers with an average raise of 9.6 percent by the 2018-19 school year, which they describe as “effectively the same” as the Governor’s proposal. After all, the Governor has described his salary plan as providing a 10 percent raise over the biennium.

The competing teacher salary plans certainly sound like they are comparable. A closer analysis, however, shows that they are significantly different. The problem is, that when the General Assembly describes their plan as a 9.6 percent raise, and the Governor describes his plan as a 10 percent raise, they are talking about completely different things.

There are two ways to describe the impact of a teacher salary plan. Read more

Commentary

Final budget plan ignores past promises and irresponsibly underfunds teacher salary plan

North Carolina’s General Assembly leadership likes to tout its record of “fiscal responsibility.” A closer look at the 2017 budget’s teacher pay plan, however, shows that the salary plans are dangerously underfunded. Under-funding a $5.3 billion line-item is the opposite of fiscal responsibility.

The General Assembly has budgeted $101.7 million to implement its 2017-18 salary schedule. It is unclear how this number was derived. Had the General Assembly used the same methodology as used in the previous three budgets, it should have budgeted at least $115.4 million to implement the first-year teacher salary schedule. The problem is repeated in the budget’s second year. The General Assembly budgets just $372.6 million to implement its 2018-19 salary schedule, but the cost is likely to be closer to $387.0 million.

If anything, lawmakers should consider being more conservative in how they estimate teacher pay plans. Preliminary data from the December pay period indicates that the General Assembly under-budgeted teacher salaries by about $8 million in FY 16-17. If that holds true, this would mark the first time the General Assembly has underfunded the teacher allotment in over twenty years.

It is unclear whether the General Assembly is also under-funding its pay plan for principals and assistant principals. Neither the General Assembly’s nonpartisan Fiscal Research Division, nor the Department of Public Instruction, have released the data necessary to assess the fiscal soundness of these plans.

If the General Assembly’s fiscal irresponsibility creates a hole in the budget, the Governor’s budget office will have to implement mid-year budget cuts in other areas to ensure that teachers continue to receive their promised salaries. Should that come to pass, let’s be clear that the blame will lay with the General Assembly’s reckless budgeting practices, and not with the Governor acting to fix the General Assembly’s self-inflicted mess.

It’s important to remember that the General Assembly’s teacher pay plan represents a broken promise to North Carolina’s teachers. In the spring of 2016, Senator Phil Berger unveiled a plan to bring average teacher pay to $54,224 in the 17-18 school year. This budget fails to meet Senator Berger’s promise. Under the 2017 budget plan, average teacher pay will likely fall a little under $50,900 in the 17-18 school year. Read more

Commentary

House and Senate’s draconian central office cuts would disproportionately harm poor, rural school districts

Among the elements necessary for a well-functioning school district, central office staff are often overlooked. However, a functioning central office is vital. These professionals ensure that money is spent in accordance with the law, provide technical assistance to low-performing schools, comply with the numerous data and reporting requirements imposed by state lawmakers, implement state programs, recruit and hire school staff, develop school assignment and busing plans, and otherwise manage a school district’s complicated logistics.

Both the House and Senate budget proposals include draconian cuts to funding for school districts’ central office operations. The proposed cuts in the 2017 budget come on the heels of a number of post-Recession budget cuts. These cuts fall disproportionately on poor, rural districts that lack the local funding base necessary to replace the revenue eliminated by state cuts. And of course, the cuts ignore the simple truth that if we want our school districts to succeed, they need competent administrators.

The central office allotment was created in 1995 when S.L. 1995-450 consolidated nine allotments for various, specific positions into one allotment for “central office administration.” Following consolidation, the central office allotment was funded at approximately $84 million. The original allotment formula provided a base level of funding to each school district because, many central office costs are fixed costs. That is, every district needs a superintendent, a finance officer, curriculum supervisors, and human resource professionals. The formula then provided additional funding based on the number of students in a district, with smaller districts receiving a larger per-student appropriation.

Since its establishment, the central office allotment has been a frequent target of budget cuts. The allotment has been reduced in each of the 2001-02, 2002-03, 2003-04, 2009-10, 2010-11, 2011-12, 2012-13, 2014-15, and 2016-17 fiscal years. Due to insufficient funding, the original allotment formula has been abandoned.

The General Assembly is proposing slashing funding even deeper in the upcoming biennium. The House proposes cutting the FY 2017-18 allotment by $5 million, and the FY 2018-19 allotment by $10 million. The Senate goes $5 million deeper each year, proposing a $10 million cut in FY 2017-18 and a $15 million cut in FY 2018-19. Read more

Commentary

House Budget fails to fully fund its unambitious teacher salary plan

After much waiting, the House finally unveiled the full details of its budget last night, including its plan for teacher pay. Unfortunately, the plan is disappointingly unambitious, failing to provide the significant pay raises required to attract and retain the best possible candidates into the teaching profession. Astonishingly, the House fails to fully-fund this unambitious plan.

General Assembly leadership now have three competing salary plans to consider as they begin the work on developing a final, compromise budget. The graph below compares the proposals from the Governor, the Senate, and the House against the existing schedule of pay for teachers with a bachelor’s degree:

Major differences between the three teacher salary plans include: Read more

Commentary

House leadership should seize opportunity for ambitious teacher pay proposal

With the delayed release of the House budget proposal, legislative leaders have had ample opportunity to address the many shortfalls of the Senate budget proposal. Ideally, House leadership will take a more responsible approach towards funding future class-size requirements, resisting expansion of unaccountable voucher programs, and the dismantling of the Department of Public Instruction. However, the best opportunity for House leadership to improve upon the Senate budget proposal may involve a more enlightened and ambitious approach towards teacher pay.

According to recently released estimates from the National Education Association, North Carolina’s average teacher pay ranking improved from 41st to 35th. North Carolina’s improved ranking is good news, but the average pay ranking is not very useful for determining what type of pay is needed to attract and retain the best and the brightest into the profession. Instead, policymakers need to look at how North Carolina teacher salaries compare with the salaries of other professionals in North Carolina whose jobs have similar college-level education requirements. Countries with high-performing education systems such as South Korea, Finland, and Singapore offer teacher salaries that are competitive with other professions. By contrast, North Carolina’s teacher salaries are only about 57 to 65 percent of other college graduates in the state. According to this more useful measure of teacher salary competitiveness, North Carolina ranks 49th.

Given the woeful state of teacher salary competitiveness, the primary goal of any House teacher pay proposal should be focusing on increasing teacher salaries across the board. The Senate’s plan would provide teachers average raises just under 3.8 percent. By contrast, Governor Cooper’s budget proposal would provide teachers average raises of 6.2 percent. With additional creativity, House leadership could certainly afford an even more ambitious teacher pay plan. Read more