It’s a theme that’s been invoked and echoed repeatedly across North Carolina in recent years, but it deserves to be raised up once more today in anticipation of the 2016 legislative session that convenes next month. This morning, the Greensboro News & Record does the honors in a lead editorial entitled simply “Pay teachers better”:
“Educators don’t enter the profession to get rich, but they’re entitled to do the best they can. Those who teach subjects in greatest demand, such as math and science, often can choose from among better opportunities. School systems that seriously want to attract the best teachers should be prepared to compete. But they face obstacles.
The number of young people training to become teachers through our UNC schools of education is declining steadily, despite recent increases in starting pay to $35,000.
Other factors negate the effect of higher pay. New teachers in North Carolina are no longer eligible to achieve career status, or tenure. This basic job protection simply requires due process before teachers can be dismissed.
Teachers who already earned career status are fighting in court to keep it. Two lower courts took their side, ruling the state can’t remove tenure once it’s granted, but that decision is before the N.C. Supreme Court. If it’s reversed, more veteran teachers could leave — not because they aren’t good teachers but because it would be another blow to their dignity on top of very limited pay increases over many years.
School systems also have less money to offer bonus payments to attract and keep top teachers. The state has cut per-pupil allocations and diverted money to private schools and for-profit virtual schools. Not only are schools losing money they could use to supplement teacher salaries, they’re losing funding for teaching assistants, who make life easier for classroom teachers.
Earlier this year, state Superintendent June Atkinson recommended a 10 percent, across-the-board pay raise for teachers. Legislators suggest that a 2 percent raise is more realistic, given the state’s finances.
The state’s finances would be stronger without the legislature’s drive to reduce the corporate income tax to nothing over the next few years — as if businesses don’t depend on a well-educated workforce. They should be willing to pay for better schools.
Republican lawmakers would rather pay better salaries for the most effective teachers, but that strategy can’t work unless salaries are high enough to attract more people into teaching in the first place. In addition, there will be fewer vacancies if veteran teachers are encouraged to stay a few years longer rather than retire as soon as they’re eligible. Putting them under a pay ceiling doesn’t invite them to stay.
North Carolina is 42nd in the country in average teacher pay. One doesn’t have to be a math teacher to see that’s a formula for failure.”