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Governor Pat McCrory’s notorious hyper-sensitivity to criticism was on full display yet again yesterday. The Guv went to the trouble of issuing a special statement in response a mild and understated barb from President Obama about the well-documented decline in North Carolina’s commitment to public education.

Here’s what the Prez said:

“Funding now here in this state, and teacher pay, is ranking as low as it gets. And so part of it is just pointing that out and hopefully understanding this shouldn’t be a partisan issue. It shouldn’t matter whether you’re Republican or Democrat. You should want to make sure schools are successful and have … teachers who are motivated and have professional training but also are making enough of a living that they can afford a middle-class lifestyle.”

Rather than letting the remark go as he would have been smart to do, McCrory tried to respond with a snippy comment in which he touted his Rube Goldberg teacher pay raise plan of last year and basically said that Obama had no idea what he was talking about.

The fact of the matter, though, is that Obama was quite correct. North Carolina spending on public education is still well-below pre-Great Recession levels. And while, some teachers did get a desperately overdue raise last year, it in no way made up for the years of layoffs, class size hikes, losses of support personnel and numerous other indignities visited on our public schools because of the state leadership’s ill-advised tax giveaways to the well-off.

The bottom line: As usual, the Governor overreacted to a gentle bit of criticism and in so doing, only served to focus more attention on the policy failures over which he has presided.

Commentary

Education cutsThis morning’s Winston-Salem Journal provides another example of how absurdly underfunded our public education system has gotten this morning in an editorial about the pay rates North Carolina maintains for teacher assistants.

Starting T.A. pay under the current state schedule works out by my back-of-the-envelope math to something on the order of around $12 an hour. There are plenty of chain restaurant servers who make more and this is well below the state’s living income standard. Stay on the job into middle age or retirement and you might eventually work your way up to $19 an hour.

As the Journal editorial reminds us, this is a preposterous way to treat the people entrusted with educating our children and a lousy way to attract quality employees. The editorial holds up the story of this year’s T.A. of the year — an amazing woman named Andrea Cranfill who has overcome her own disabilities to perform superhuman tasks working with challenged kids .

Cranfill’s service is clearly something akin to mission work performed at a great self-sacrifice. As admirable as this is, however, it shouldn’t have to be this way.  As any teacher will tell you, having a qualified and competent T.A. can make all the difference in transforming a classroom, or even a school itself.

So long as North Carolina is going to avoid the obvious solution of dramatically reducing class sizes to the point at which our teachers can have a reasonable shot at providing each child with the individualized attention each one deserves, the least we can do is pay our T.A.’s a living wage. Right now, we’re not even close.

Commentary, NC Budget and Tax Center, Raising the Bar 2015

Editor’s note: The following post By Dr. Mark Edwards, Superintendent of the Mooresville Graded School District, is the latest installment in “Raising the Bar” — a new series of essays and blog posts authored by North Carolina leaders highlighting ways in which North Carolina public investments are falling short and where and how they can be improved.

A group of visitors to Mooresville Graded School District and Park View Elementary School were walking around the third grade class when a guest superintendent from Missouri asked a young man, “What are you working on?”

The student replied, “I am working on my reading.”

“How are you doing on your reading?” the superintendent followed up.

“Fantastic!” the young man replied, smiling. “Here, I will show you my report.” The student then pulled up a personal profile spread sheet of his reading results.

“See the blue line? That’s me going up two months ahead of my reading level.” The little boy looked at the superintendent and asked, “Do you understand what trajectory means?”

“Well, yes I do,” the superintendent replied.

“Well good then. I will show you my trajectory… See that green line above the blue line? That’s my trajectory. That’s where I’m headed,” the student explained.

“Do you think you can do it?” the superintendent asked.

“I know I can. Because I am in charge of my learning.”

I am encouraged that Gov. Pat McCrory is focusing attention on beginning salaries and funding some efforts to recognize teacher-leaders. In order for North Carolina to actually compete with other states, however, we need to look for significantly broader support. In Mooresville, we are known for our digital conversion and for excellence in student achievement.

The absolute key to our success is the human infrastructure of great teachers, principals and staff going above and beyond the call of duty day after day and year after year. When we recruit against surrounding states like Virginia, South Carolina, and Tennessee, we are facing a six to ten thousand dollar salary disadvantage.

The treatment of our state’s teachers is creating a drastic drop in enrollment in our Colleges of Education throughout North Carolina; furthermore, it is causing veteran teachers to retire ahead of when many planned because they feel disheartened and dishonored. Read More

News

The Greensboro News & Record reported this weekend that the Houston Independent School District, which is led by former Guilford County schools chief Terry Grier, held another job fair for teachers at a hotel on Saturday.

Houston is offering starting teachers with no experience $49,100 — a far cry from North Carolina’s current base starting salary of $33,000 (some local districts offer salary supplements).

Depending on experience, Houston’s salaries could top $80,000 for some teachers. In North Carolina, base teacher salaries max out at $50,000.

“The bottom line is we have to provide for our families and provide for ourselves,” Jeff Roberts, a Thomasville teacher told media at a news conference to discuss concerns about teacher pay in North Carolina.

The lure of higher pay is pulling teachers away from North Carolina, harming the state’s future, Democratic leaders said at that news conference held outside the DoubleTree Hotel by Hilton.

Houston held job fairs for teachers twice in 2014, in Raleigh, Greensboro and Charlotte.

The National Education Association estimates that North Carolina will rank 42nd in teacher pay in 2015 — that’s with the average 7 percent pay raise lawmakers enacted last year and well below Senate leader Phil Berger’s estimation that the pay bump would bring North Carolina up in the rankings to 32nd.

Read more about the Houston job fair for teachers over at the News & Record.

News

The National Education Association released on Wednesday its annual report on public school rankings and estimates and North Carolina is once again toward the bottom on teacher pay in 2013-14, ranking 47th in the nation – but the rankings pre-date the General Assembly’s move to boost teacher pay last year.

North Carolina inched up in the 2014 rankings on per-pupil finding – from 47th to 46th – but the amount of funding in actual dollars spent per student fell from $8,632 to $8,620, according to the North Carolina Association for Educators (NCAE).

“The rankings once again show the troubling trend of falling per-student funding in our public schools,” said NCAE President Rodney Ellis. “Instead of righting the ship, North Carolina’s per- pupil expenditure continues to drop. If we are going to get serious about what works, we must get serious about modern textbooks in the classrooms, more one-on-one interaction with teachers and students, and a quality teacher in every class.”

The NEA estimates that North Carolina will rise in the rankings on teacher pay to 42nd in 2015, the first year that lawmakers’ average 7 percent pay raise for teachers, which was enacted last year, will be reflected in the rankings.

Previously, lawmakers said that last year’s pay bump for teachers should move the state up to 32nd in teacher pay—and that promise is prominently displayed on Senate leader Phil Berger’s website still today.

“The budget will provide public school educators an average seven percent raise – averaging $3,500 per teacher. The $282 million investment will be largest teacher pay raise in state history – moving North Carolina from 46th to 32nd in national teacher pay rankings,” according to Berger’s website.

North Carolina ranks 51st in percentage change in teacher salaries between 2003-04 and 2013-14.

Read the full report below, which also includes rankings and estimates on school revenues and expenditures, student-teacher ratios and other information about state and local investment in public schools.