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

Commentary

Senate teacher pay proposal fails both beginning and experienced teachers

The North Carolina Senate released its proposed FY 2017-18 teacher salary schedule this afternoon. Remarkably, the proposal is bad news for both beginning teachers and experienced teachers. As compared to the plan released earlier this spring by Governor Cooper, all teachers would fare worse under the Senate proposal.

The Senate proposal, described as providing current teachers with an average raise of 3.7%, would keep the starting pay for teachers at $35,000. Beginning teachers with 0 to 2 years of experience would receive modest raises ranging between 1.7% and 2.4%. Mid-career teachers would fare better. Teachers moving from step 14 to step 15 would receive raises of 8.5%, the highest raises under the plan.

Teachers with 25 years or more of experience would have their salaries frozen under the plan. This pay freeze is a continuation of the General Assembly’s recent antipathy towards experienced teachers. Under the Senate proposal, the maximum bachelor’s-level teacher salary for 2017-18 ($51,000) would remain below the maximum bacherlor’s-level teacher salary available in 2007-08 ($52,080). The hostility towards experienced teachers is all the more troubling given research – using North Carolina data – showing that experienced teachers continue to improve student outcomes throughout their careers. Read more

Commentary

General Assembly must still provide $293 million in teacher money to settle class-size debate

On April 27th, the General Assembly passed, and the Governor signed, House Bill 13, bringing a temporary reprieve to North Carolina’s great class-size debate. The bill delayed the unfunded class-size requirements by one year, preserving elementary school students’ access to “enhancement courses” such as art, music, technology, and physical education for the 2017-18 school year.

In passing the bill, Senate leaders have publicly promised to provide additional funds for enhancement teachers beginning the 2018-19 school year. Despite the pledge, the Senate worryingly voted down an effort by Sen. Jay Chaudhuri to include that funding pledge in the bill’s language. As a result, North Carolina’s class-size controversy remains unsettled. Without a funding guarantee, school districts will once again enter next year’s budget season uncertain whether they will be able to continue providing art, music, technology, and physical education courses to elementary school students.

Absent from the class-size debate has been an estimate of exactly how much additional funding will be required to meet 2018-19 class-size requirements while preserving enhancement classes for students in grades K-3.  To fully-fund class-size requirements and enhancement teachers, the General Assembly will need to increase classroom teacher funding by approximately $293 million in FY 18-19.

Prior to recent-year changes, the state had provided districts with one teacher for every 18 students in grades K-3, but only required districts to maintain average class sizes of 21 students. This flexibility is what has allowed districts to use additional teaching positions to provide enhancement courses or targeted class-size reductions for at-risk students. The historic difference between the allotment ratio (one teacher for every 18 students) and the district average class-size limit (one teacher for every 21 students) meant that districts received one additional teacher for every six teachers needed to meet the district average class-size limit.

Based on district enrollment projections for the 2017-18 school year, North Carolina’s schools will require at least 28,345 teachers in grades K-3 to meet the tightened class-size requirements slated to go into effect in the 2018-19 school year. Based on the historic ratio of one enhancement teacher for every six teachers needed to meet the district average class size limit, schools will need an additional 4,720 teachers to meet 2018-19 class-size requirements while preserving enhancement classes for students in grades K-3. With an average salary and benefits of $61,936 per teacher, fully-funding enhancement teachers will cost approximately $293 million. Read more

Commentary

Flurry of House charter school bills would facilitate segregation of North Carolina’s schools

The field of education policy can be quite divided on a number of topics. But in recent years, researchers are increasingly reaching consensus on the harmful impacts of segregated schools. For example, Stanford’s Sean Reardon has found that within-district segregation is the biggest predictor of racial achievement gaps, with one-fifth of the average metropolitan area’s racial achievement gap explained by racial segregation. In Montgomery County, Maryland, students randomly assigned to integrated schools made larger achievement gains than students in less diverse schools. Closer to home, the elimination of Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s school busing program increased the black-white achievement gap. These results are consistent with my own forthcoming research on school segregation in North Carolina, which has found a statistically significant negative relationship between student achievement and the level of segregation in a district.

Research is more divided on charter schools’ impact on segregation. However, studies examining North Carolina charter schools have concluded that charter schools are exacerbating segregation. Looking at trends from 1999 to 2012, these researchers found that charter schools in North Carolina are “increasingly serving the interests of relatively able white students in racially imbalanced schools.”

Despite this body of research, the House has advanced a number of charter school bills this week that will facilitate the further segregation of North Carolina’s schools.

HB 514, which gained the approval of the House Education committee on Monday, would allow the Charlotte suburbs of Mint Hill and Matthews to operate their own charter school. Residents of Mint Hill and Matthews would be granted enrollment preference to any charter school operated by the municipalities. Mint Hill is 73 percent white. Matthews is 78 percent white. Meanwhile Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools serves a student population that is only 29 percent white. It is unclear how North Carolina’s public school system would benefit by carving out a separate, majority-white school exclusively for these communities.

Equally disturbing, HB 800, which passed the House Tuesday afternoon, provides charter school enrollment priority to children of “charter partners” – corporations that have contributed at least $50,000 to a charter school. Under the bill, the charter school could reserve up to half of its seats for children whose parents work for a company that has donated land or buildings, or contributed to capital improvements. It is unlikely that the demographics of the children of the corporate donor class mirror that of the children of North Carolina’s public schools.

Rep. John R. Bradford III, HB 800’s sponsor, described his bill as, “a vehicle where a company can create an employee benefit” similar to providing employees with free meals.  Bradford’s position is a radical abandonment of the view of public schools as a public good, creating an engaged and informed citizenry for the benefits of society writ large. Rather than preparing all students for active participation in society, HB 800 would move North Carolina towards a system where corporations could create publicly-funded schools serving commercial interests. Rather than creating equal opportunity for all children to benefit from our public education system, HB 800 would reserve certain opportunities strictly for the children of corporate employees.

Another House bill also bears monitoring, as it too could easily become a vehicle to further school segregation. HB 704 would create a study committee to examine whether to break up large school districts. Of course, North Carolina’s historical consolidation of school districts was driven by the motivation to keep systems integrated. It is unclear why house members might now want to break up large school districts. It is important to note, however, that HB 704 is sponsored by Reps. Brawley and Bradford, who are the primary sponsors on HB 514 and HB 800, respectively.

Commentary

Governor Cooper is underselling his teacher pay plan

Amidst the clamor over the General Assembly’s unfunded class-size mandate, Governor Cooper’s teacher pay plan has fallen from the North Carolina education headlines. However, teacher pay will certainly return to the forefront over the coming months as the North Carolina Senate and House release their budget proposals. As a result, it’s important to have a firm understanding of the Governor’s proposal.

The Governor described his proposal as a two-year effort to increase teacher salaries by 10 percent. For year one, FY 2017-18, the Governor proposes investing $271 million in teacher raises to provide what he described as “a more than 5% average increase for teachers in 2017-18.” Additionally, the proposal would eliminate the misguided “tier system” established in 2014-15 that only provided guaranteed raises to teachers every five years.

Teacher salary proposals are among the biggest state budget items each year, and deserve outside, independent analysis. Last year, Governor McCrory and General Assembly leadership were incredibly dishonest in their description of their teacher pay plan. General Assembly leadership absurdly claimed that their plan would bring average teacher salaries above $50,150, a claim repeated by the Lieutenant Governor and on countless campaign commercials. Governor McCrory centered his campaign on the equally-false claim that he met his promise to bring average teacher salaries above $50,000. Of course, these claims were provably false at the time, and average teacher pay remains below $50,000.

Thankfully, Governor Cooper has taken a more honest approach. If anything, he’s under-selling his plan. Read more