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In an opinion piece published this morning by the News and Observer, Hendersonville high school English teacher Chris Gilbert acknowledges the recent pay raise bestowed upon teachers by state lawmakers (significant for some and minuscule for others), but says he believes it is not demonstrative of politicians’ renewed commitment to public education.

Now, certain politicians can claim [the teacher pay raise of 2014] represents a renewed commitment to public education, and they secretly hope the pay increase will distract us from recent events that challenge this false narrative and reveal their true intentions.

We, however, have not forgotten the recent past.

We remember the recent plan to “reward” the top 25 percent of a district’s educators with small raises in exchange for relinquishing due process rights.

We remember that North Carolina’s teachers were recently among the lowest paid in the country.

We remember the passing of a state budget that led various districts to cut teacher assistants.

We remember a damaging bill passed last year that eliminated class size caps in early grades.

We remember the reduction of textbook funding from over $111 million in 2009 to $23.3 million in 2014.

We remember the implementation of the unconstitutional voucher program that siphons funds from public education to private schools.

We remember changes to the tax structure that have decreased revenue and threatened sustainable funding for teacher pay, our education system and other essential services.

This list could certainly continue, but the point should be clear: Recent state history reveals serious intent, and multiple attempts, to dismantle public education in order to justify privatization and create profit opportunities in the public sector.
Commentary

It’s been about a month since North Carolina’s legislature wrapped up the short summer session and headed home to begin campaigning ahead of November’s election.

Former Governor Jim Hunt writes in a must-read editorial that lawmakers need to stop boasting about the modest pay raise afforded to teachers this year, and worry about whether North Carolina will be able to attract and keep high-quality teachers in the future.

The four-term governor notes in Saturday’s News & Observer:

Jim_HuntIt’s not just poor pay, but working conditions for teachers have deteriorated with rising class sizes, fewer textbooks and supplies, cuts in teaching assistants and political leadership that too often disparages teachers.

While both political parties deserve to share some of the blame, the fact is that as our economy improves, the current state leadership continues to keep our public schools on a bare subsistence diet and makes education policies that are an affront to teachers, especially experienced ones.

Teachers are a smart bunch. The recent pay raises have been sold as 7 percent – but that’s not what many teachers are seeing in their paychecks. Young teachers are getting a modest raise, but those veteran teachers who have worked and sacrificed to give our children a good education have seen the longevity pay they counted on abolished. And the new salary schedule treats them very unfairly. A teacher in Clayton wrote that she got a raise of only $47.60 per month. One Wake County teacher told WRAL-TV that when she saw her increase was only 1.39 percent she “sat down and cried.”

Not surprisingly, many North Carolina teachers are voting against education cuts with their feet. States like Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia and Texas are actively recruiting them. (The Houston School District just hired 28.) Other teachers are retiring early, and many top teachers are going into better paying jobs in business and science.

I think we should be especially alarmed by the message current policies and low teacher pay is sending to the young people of North Carolina who should be our “future teachers.”

Enrollment in Schools of Education on our University of North Carolina campuses has dropped precipitously. I received my undergraduate degree in the School of Education at North Carolina State University. Over the last several years new enrollment in my alma mater’s program has gone down every single year – a drop of 52 percent in four years.

At UNC-Greensboro (my teacher mother’s alma mater) total undergraduate enrollment in the School of Education has gone down 44 percent in the last six years.

Where will our future teachers come from? Will we even have enough to teach our kids?

Once North Carolina had a Teaching Fellows Program that attracted “the best and brightest” of our students with four-year scholarships if they promised to teach for four years or more. Now the legislature has abolished it.

I believe the status of our public schools and teachers is the No. 1 concern of North Carolina’s resident today. Some say we don’t have the resources and can’t do any better. I know that we can.

Republican Gov. Jim Holshouser believed we could when he supported the establishment of public kindergarten in 1973 and raised teacher pay to 27th in the nation.

In 1996 I campaigned for governor on a platform of raising teacher pay to the national average. In 1997 we built a bipartisan coalition with support from Democrats and Republicans, business leaders, education advocates and teachers to support the Excellent Schools Act. And over the next four years we increased teacher pay by almost 33 percent, raising pay to the national average and 20th in the country.

It is my hope that when the General Assembly convenes in 2015, there will be a new sense of cooperation and a firm commitment to do three things:

First, respect veteran teachers by restoring longevity pay and giving them the minimum 5.5 percent raise they were sold.

Second, increase salaries for all teachers, moving North Carolina to the national average in the next four years.

Third, improve working conditions for our teachers and send the message that North Carolina values its teachers.

That will show the real respect that North Carolina teachers deserve.

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News

IMG_2341Lt. Governor Dan Forest kicked off a statewide media tour today in Raleigh to promote his “I Support Teachers” license plates — one part of his newly minted North Carolina Education Endowment fund that is aimed at increasing the salaries of the state’s highest performing public school teachers.

“We need to have the best teachers in the world here in North Carolina,” said Forest. “And one of the things that often happens is that we play this game with teachers about how do we fund … teacher compensation for the long term.”

“So every couple years you get the Governor and the legislature to try to find money to help support teacher compensation, generally whatever is leftover in the budget,” continued Forest. “The purpose of the North Carolina Education Endowment fund is to provide a long term solution…to support teacher compensation so we can break the ebbs and flows of the economy.”

Lawmakers passed what they characterize as an average 7 percent raise for teachers during the 2014 legislative session, after several years of no pay raises for teachers. Those raises, however, have in large part gone to newer teachers, with veteran teachers left with little to show for their years-long wait for a pay raise.

Calling it a “lock box fund,” Forest said contributions will sit in the endowment for a period of time in order to grow, then be used to pay the state’s highest performing teachers at a greater rate. The metrics for determining who would qualify as one of the state’s highest performing teachers was not made clear.

There are several ways the NC Education Endowment can be funded, according to Forest:

  • Through the purchase of an “I Support Teachers” specialty license plate;
  • By individual or corporate donations through state income tax forms;
  • Corporations and individuals making stand-alone donations;
  • By appropriations form the general fund by the General Assembly; and
  • Through other methods to be determined in later legislation.

In the law passed this summer that enacted the endowment fund, Forest modified language from the existing law that established a specialty license plate option with the words “I Support Public Schools.” That license plate never ended up being created thanks to a lack of public interest. Forest decided to take that language and cross out “Public Schools” on the license plate and replace it with “I Support Teachers.”

While WRAL reported in May that the state’s most popular specialized license plates, which are the ones that contribute to the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, only generate annual revenue amounts of $500,000, Forest told reporters at the time that he hoped the endowment will generate billions of dollars in revenue over the long term.

During the bill’s debate, Sen. Josh Stein (D-Wake) worried that the endowment funds could ultimately just get thrown in with the big General Appropriations pot, much like what happened to the lottery funding that was originally intended to fund certain areas of education.

Forest will continue to promote his endowment by highlighting the “I Support Teachers” license plates at DMVs in Greensboro and Charlotte today.

Commentary

fuzzy-math-300x225In case you missed it, one of this morning’s “must reads” is a story posted late yesterday by WRAL reporter Mark Binker about the ongoing controversy over North Carolina’s muddled and troubled new teacher pay plan.  As Binker reports:

When Gov. Pat McCrory wrote to welcome teachers back to the classroom, he touted a “substantial” pay raise that amounted to “an average pay increase of 5.5 percent for teachers.”

That might have been exciting news, except that legislative leaders have been touting a 7 percent average pay raise for more than a month now. House Speaker Thom Tillis trumpets that 7 percent figures as “simple math” in a recent campaign ad for his U.S. Senate campaign.

For educators like Michelle Pettey, a first-grade teacher at Wake County’s Brier Creek Elementary School, that “simple math” doesn’t add up; 5.5 percent doesn’t equal 7 percent and neither number matches the smaller-than-expected pay bump that showed up in her first paycheck of the year.

“No teacher can figure out what happened,” said Pettey, a teacher with 16 years in the classroom who said her actual raise worked out to be something like 1.39 percent over last year’s salary. The single mom whose own kinds are in the school system says she has friends outside the profession who ask her why teachers are complaining about a 7 percent raise.

According to Binker’s story, the confusing new plan has even left one of the state’s most powerful politicians — Senate Rules Committee chairman Tom Apodaca — confused.

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Back to School Series

This is part of a Back to School blog series that highlight various issues to be aware of as the 2014-15 school year kicks off. (See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5)

It’s that time of year when school starts and the very next week Labor Day is here. It seems to make sense that Back to School week and Labor Day are so close together. It provides the opportunity to discuss those that labor in our public schools. Although, the truth is, there has been a lot of talk about people who work in our public schools.

Most of the discussion is about the pay raise teachers supposedly received. The truth is that many teachers are simply getting their longevity pay that they have already earned. New teachers will see some benefit of the use of the longevity pay but the teachers who have actually put in years will not be getting what they deserve.

New teachers may have higher starting salaries but it comes at a cost. They will not have career status protection which provides teachers with due process rights. Losing due process rights is a heavy price to pay. These teachers will also be working on one year contracts. These one year contracts assure, some say — including people at NCAE, that teachers are now being treated as temporary workers.

It is not only the teachers that will suffer with the one year contracts. School administrators like superintendents and principals will have to deal with the logistical nightmare of having to manage a slew of one year contracts.

Of course, the job of teaching has not become any easier since there will be fewer teacher assistants. Although it was promised that teacher assistants would not be cut in the budget, the truth is that they have.

Perhaps, the most galling thing that has happened to school personnel Read More