In case you missed it the other day, the Charlotte Observer ran one of the best essays yet on the disastrous consequences that North Carolina can expect if the ALEC-inspired “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” becomes embedded in the state constitution and what we ought to do instead.

Leslie WinnerIncrease teacher pay without TABOR

By Leslie Winner

I was talking to the superintendent of a small school system last fall, and she mournfully told me about losing her best high school math teacher to South Carolina, where he would earn $10,000 more per year for doing the same job. We all know young adults who would be good teachers, who would like to teach in North Carolina, and who won’t go into teaching, or who are leaving or won’t come to North Carolina, because we do not pay enough for a teacher’s family to live on. We all know of schools that will open this month without a qualified teacher in each classroom, that are facing a shortage of math, science, and foreign language teachers, because those schools cannot find enough qualified teachers to hire.

Almost all of us in North Carolina deeply believe that our public schools should prepare each child for a meaningful and productive life. Kids are different from each other, and each child deserves to get a year’s worth of growth for a year’s worth of school. Parents also deserve to be confident that their children will finish school prepared for the future. We know that to accomplish this, schools must have good teachers in each classroom and enough up-to-date textbooks and technology.

Since North Carolina is currently significantly behind in providing enough funding for teachers, textbooks, and technology, I was surprised to read that talk of TABOR, the so called “tax-payer bill of rights,” has resurfaced in the legislature. This proposed amendment to the state’s Constitution would both cap North Carolina’s income tax at 5%, helping those with higher incomes, and cost the state $1.5 billion a year in revenue. It would also limit increases in state spending, based on inflation and population growth, limiting North Carolina, effectively, to the amount we are spending now, with no room for improving public schools even in prosperous times.

We are fortunate to have thousands of effective, dedicated teachers in our schools. To keep them, and to attract new ones, we need to recruit smart young adults into the profession, provide the best with prestigious teacher scholarships, prepare them well, respect and support them as teachers, and pay them enough so they can support their families while they work as teachers. Currently, about half our teachers quit in their first five years. If we invested in recruiting, preparing, supporting, and paying them well, more would stay longer, reducing the number we need to hire each year, and allowing us to invest more into recruiting, preparing and supporting the next round of new teachers. Read More

State Rep. Nelson Dollar

State Rep. Nelson Dollar

If you had any doubts about the kind of long-term damage to state government that would be wrought by the ALEC-inspired “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” constitutional amendment (aka “TABOR”) recently endorsed by the North Carolina Senate, take a look at yesterday’s new budget agreement between legislative leaders and the Governor.

As Colin Campbell of Raleigh’s News & Observer reported this morning, the new agreement would provide for growth in state spending of about 3.1% over last year — 0.4% more than the 2.7% that the story reports would have been possible (i.e. the rate of inflation plus population growth) were a TABOR amendment in place.

But here’s the rub: Even with a hike that’s above the TABOR threshold, the new budget will not be able to deliver even the modest and still inadequate pay increases and service improvements that were contained in the House’s version of the budget. This is from Campbell’s article

“While the House called for all state workers to get a 2 percent raise, House senior budget writer Nelson Dollar said that’s now unlikely with less money to spend.

‘It’s $420 million less, so obviously what the House was looking at in terms of raises and in terms of investing in education will not happen,’ said Dollar, a Cary Republican.”

A TABOR constrained budget would, obviously, be even more inadequate.

The obvious and incredibly sobering bottom line therefore: If North Carolina puts TABOR into the constitution,we are all but guaranteed that teachers and other state employees will never get another decent raise again unless the state literally does away with some major function of government to free up the necessary funds.

No wonder Colorado legalized pot. People need something to ease the pain of being the only Americans forced to live under such a disastrous amendment.


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.


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