Two powerful news stories explain why NC’s disinvestment in public ed is a big problem

WRAL TV will debut a new documentary tonight about North Carolina’s dwindling commitment to funding public education entitled “Grading Teacher Pay.” This is from a lengthy article summarizing the program:

“At the start of his fourth term in 1997, North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt asked a Republican-controlled House and a Democratic-controlled Senate to raise the state’s teacher pay to the national average in four years in an effort to attract and retain more teachers.

By the time Hunt left office, North Carolina had risen in the national rankings and moved closer to the country’s average teacher salary. During the 2001-02 school year, the state ranked 19th in the U.S. for average teacher pay, less than $2,000 from the then-national average of $44,655, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

But in the years since Hunt left the governor’s mansion, the state’s ranking has plummeted. In 2013-14, North Carolina hit its lowest rank in more than a decade – 47th in the nation, with teachers paid nearly $12,000 below the national average of $56,610.

When adjusted for inflation, North Carolina’s average teacher salary has dropped more than 13 percent since 1999, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The U.S. average teacher salary has dropped 1.8 percent in that same timeframe.”

The article goes on to make a compelling case that falling teacher salaries and education investments lead to a predictable outcome for students.

Also make time to listen to Chris Fitzsimon’s recent radio interview with Clay Johnson, the documentary producer of “Grading Teacher Pay.

Meanwhile, a story on NPR this morning explores the flip-side of North Carolina’s ongoing disinvestment in public schools. In “How Massachusetts became the Best State in Education,” reporter Kirk Karapezza explains that in 1993, Massachusetts embarked upon an ambitious upgrade in its funding for public schools — especially in lower wealth communities.

“I really think that the funding was like winning the World Series,” says Karen English, a teacher of 36 years in Revere, a town just north of Boston where nearly 80 percent of students are low-income. “Everybody embraced [the extra funding], and just to have the curriculum and the books and the space made you wanna be here.”

Read more


Editorial: Stop putting tax cuts and conservative ideology ahead of decent teacher pay

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.”


Two great editorials decry the disinvestment in our teachers and schools

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.”


These two graphs show why June Atkinson is right and Tim Moore is wrong about teacher pay

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