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An editorial in today’s Wilmington Star-News does an excellent job of explaining why the ranks of North Carolina teachers and teachers in training are thinning:

“Apparently, a lot fewer people want to be teachers in North Carolina.

Gee. Wonder why?

Alice Chapman, vice president for academic programs in the University of North Carolina system, told the N.C. Board of Education that enrollment in undergraduate and graduate education programs — essentially, the teacher-track course at the state’s public colleges — has declined by 30 percent since 2010.

The brain drain has slowed a bit, Chapman noted; in 2014-2015, the drop-off was just 3.4 percent. Still, she called the trend ‘very concerning.’

That’s an understatement. With North Carolina hovering around 42nd place out of the 50 states in how much we pay teachers, we’re not likely to draw very many new teachers from somewhere else. The UNC figures mean our homegrown supply of teachers is shrinking, even as school enrollments grow.

Now, before the Great Recession, teacher salaries in North Carolina stood very near the U.S. median. Legislators — in both Democrat and Republican years — chose to put off hard financial decisions by putting off raises. Now we’re seeing the result.

This year, with a $450 million surplus in the bank, our Honorables gave a 2 percent raise — but only to beginning teachers. The rest had to content themselves with the $750 one-time-only bonus other state employees got.

The state Department of Public Instruction reports a teacher turnover rate of 15 percent last year — which means teachers moving on to other jobs. Earlier, the department found that 1,082 North Carolina teachers took jobs in other states last year, roughly triple the number who moved away in 2010.

Of course, money isn’t everything. In the past, though, many teachers chose the security of steady employment and the promise of a pension.

Even that, however, seems to be eroding. Read More

Commentary

An editorial in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer (“In NC a teacher shortage develops by design”) tells it like it is:

“One would have thought, when Republican lawmakers raised starting teacher pay in North Carolina to $35,000, that they’d marched into classrooms in North Carolina with sacks of gold and silver. Of course, that salary is hardly a king’s ransom, and teachers with more experience didn’t fare so well. The state remains in the bottom half of the country in teacher compensation.

Teachers also are skeptical of these GOP lawmakers, who have so cheated public education at all levels and undermined conventional public schools with a too-rapid expansion of charter schools and public “scholarships” for children in private schools.

So it should come as no surprise that enrollment in the 15 schools of education in the public university system has dropped – by 30 percent since 2010.

This forecasts a deepening teacher shortage in North Carolina, one that will impact tens of thousands of families.”

After refuting the notion that the decline is driven merely by the fact that young people are more interested in “making a lot of money as opposed to making a difference,” the editorial concludes this way:

“Republicans are going to reap what they sowed with their lackluster support of public education. Unfortunately, the rest of us are going to reap it, too. When there are not enough teachers to get the job done, and classrooms are overloaded and children are being deprived, the political rhetoric from the GOP about lowering taxes on the wealthy and big business for the good of North Carolina isn’t going to pass muster with the people of North Carolina, who support more investment in public education.”

The bottom line: Would-be teachers have eyes and ears. They see and hear how low the morale is amongst a large percentage of current educators — not just because of low pay, but also because of the Right’s multi-front attack on the profession and public education generally. Plenty of people are willing to make sacrifices to become teachers, but understandably, fewer and fewer are willing to endure the constant attacks on the very idea of public education (e.g. the effort to eliminate their professional association, the derisive drumbeat of attacks on “government schools,” the deceptive snake oil “competition” provided by unaccountable voucher and charter schools, the efforts by the religious right to dismantle the teaching of actual science).

Sadly, despite the crocodile tears being shed in some corners, the new numbers are exactly what the ideologues on the right had in mind decades ago when they commenced their effort to dismantle and privatize our public schools. It’s going to take sustained commitment over the next couple of decades for caring and thinking people to roll back the tide.

NC Budget and Tax Center

State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson recently proposed a 10 percent pay increase for public school teachers. In response, NC House Speaker Moore stated that he doesn’t think that’s a realistic goal because North Carolina can’t afford the price tag. Speaker Moore says he believes we must pay our teachers more than we do, but that this should be done in a responsible way.

The requested pay increase comes as North Carolina ranks among the very bottom of states for average teacher pay. State funding for pay increases in recent years has largely targeted early-career teachers, leaving more experienced educators wondering if they will ever get a meaningful pay increase.

The reason providing teachers a 10 percent pay increase is deemed a hefty, unrealistic task by state leaders is clear – costly tax cuts ushered through by state leaders in recent years. Tax cuts included in the current two-year budget, once fully phased in, will reduce annual state revenue by more than $1 billion. When you include the cost of the tax cuts passed in 2013, the combined reduction in annual revenue increases to more than $2 billion. These are dollars that would otherwise be available under the old tax code in place prior to the tax changes. The tax cuts largely benefited the already well-off and profitable corporations and shifted the tax load to low- and middle-income families and individuals.

State leaders have proven their ability to push through their priorities in recent years and tax cuts have certainly been a major priority. The self-inflicted challenge that North Carolina faces – providing all teachers a meaningful raise – is a result of state leaders’ dogged pursuit of more and more tax cuts. This challenge is not happenstance, but rather a consequence of choices made by state lawmakers.

North Carolina’s ability to make public investments that are crucial to promoting widespread prosperity and that support a growing economy requires a tax system that raises adequate revenue to meet the growing needs of our state. Tax cuts passed in recent years will increasingly challenge our ability to strengthen the foundation that ensures opportunity for all North Carolinians – quality public schools, affordable higher education, and healthy and vibrant communities, for example.

What is not realistic is for state lawmakers to continue cutting taxes, which reduces revenue for public investments, and expect our state to be able to compete for good-paying jobs and remain an attractive state to raise a family and operate a business. All North Carolinians lose as we are taken down this dangerous path of cutting taxes at the expense of investing in our people and our future.

Commentary

Raleigh’s News & Observer has featured two outstanding editorials on the subject of public education in recent days.

Number One  is in this morning’s paper and it’s entitled “Sorry teachers, your raises went elsewhere.” To quote:

“Republicans, even in a time of economic recovery, work on a tight budget because their priority is giving tax breaks to business and wealthy individuals, and they’re steering the state toward reliance on more sales and services taxes, which hit those of low and moderate incomes hardest.

Too bad for teachers. And too bad for North Carolina families when a teacher shortage hits. Though Republicans claim their salary boosts for teachers (particularly beginning teachers) have raised the state to the hardly proud ranking of 32nd in the country in pay, the National Education Association puts the ranking for 2015 about 10 spots below that. The state is going to pay a price for that sooner or later, and probably sooner.”

And Number Two comes from last Friday’s N&O. This is from “Don’t hand off failing NC schools to charter companies”:

“The frustration that some elected officials feel about low-performing schools and the inability to improve them is understandable. But the proposal floated by some lawmakers to have charter companies take over some of the schools and form a “special district” is wrong.

This would not represent a solution to the problem of perennially low-performing schools, which typically have large proportions of poor and minority students. This would be an abdication of responsibility. The state is under a long-standing mandate from the courts to ensure that every child in North Carolina get a “sound, basic” education.

The best way to improve failing schools is to invest more in personnel and resources and to focus on improvement. Handing those schools over to charter companies ensures nothing.”

Commentary

As reported here on Wednesday by N.C. Policy Watch Education Reporter Billy Ball, North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson is calling for state teachers to receive a 10% raise. Yesterday, in response, House Speaker Tim Moore shot down the idea, saying it was unrealistic.

Here, in two simple graphs, is an explanation of why Atkinson is right and Moore is wrong. The graphs come from Altered State: How 5 years of conservative rule have transformed North Carolina, the special N.C. Policy Watch report released late in 2015.

The first shows how teacher pay in North Carolina has been falling further behind the national average.

Teacher pay 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second shows where the overwhelming majority of the massive tax cuts enacted by the Governor and the General Assembly in recent years have gone — i.e. the wealthiest North Carolinians.

Tax cut winners