As Republicans in the General Assembly look at tax reform to make North Carolina more competitive with neighboring states when recruiting businesses and industry, they should also work to improve our public education system with more competitive salaries for teachers.
A report released last week by the National Education Association showed that North Carolina’s teachers rank an embarrassing 46th among the country’s 50 states in pay. The report determined that pay has stagnated because of the recent economy, and that supplemental dollars are disbursed unevenly on the local level. This sorry mix is pushing better teachers out of North Carolina or into other careers.
The consequences should be obvious, but we will provide the ABCs: Without adequate compensation to attract and retain excellent teachers, some of our children — particularly those who are at risk and with little parental guidance — will suffer in the classroom, and this state’s taxpayers will eventually pick up the tab.
There simply is no better investment than our children — and North Carolina is failing miserably here.
And don’t get sidetracked. Every superintendent in this state could work without a salary or the possibility of a bonus and it wouldn’t free up enough dollars to make much of a difference in the way we pay teachers. This isn’t about that.
How about this? Redirect lottery money — or at least a sizable chunk of it — toward an endowment that would grow and generate a permanent revenue stream for supplements that could be distributed from the state level. How that could be done could be debated, but done properly it could turn North Carolina into a destination state for quality teachers.
But as long as supplements depend on local dollars, poor counties in North Carolina will continue to be at a disadvantage when trying to recruit quality teachers — and the educational gap between our state’s richest and poorest counties will widen.
With North Carolina ranking as the 17th poorest state in the U.S., even the state’s richest counties, such as Wake, fall short of the national average.
During his successful election campaign, Gov. Pat McCrory, who so far has shown a disdain for the status quo, said he believes teacher pay should be linked to classroom achievement, which is a goal that is slippery at best.
According to McCrory’s education platform he believes that “Researchers identify teacher quality as the main in-school factor affecting students’ academic achievement. Therefore, the most important reform North Carolina could implement would be to keep the best teachers in the classroom.”
This seems to be an accurate understanding of part of the problem, but McCrory continues, “We will reform our pay system to reward teachers for the job they do instead of just the number of years they teach.”
Often times other circumstances can hinder a student’s ability to learn, especially in poverty-stricken areas of the state, such as, poor diet, poor sleep, lack of parental guidance and support.
And it is reported that only 67 percent of North Carolina students are passing both their mathematics and English EOGs.
The American Institutes for Research discovered that “The problem [of finding highly qualified teachers] was exacerbated in high poverty, high minority and urban districts, where the biggest recruitment obstacle was competition with other districts. These districts were most likely to offer financial incentives and alternate certification routes to recruit highly qualified applicants. Even though fewer than 25 percent of districts around the country used financial incentives, such as increased salaries, signing bonuses or housing incentives to attract highly qualified candidates, more than 75 percent of high minority districts offered such incentives, according to the report.”
In order to compete with surrounding states for North Carolina, and surrounding counties for those that are economically impoverished, North Carolina needs to offer financial incentives to its teachers, including increased salaries, signing bonuses and housing incentives.
Whether a redirection of lottery money or cuts elsewhere in the state budget, education needs to come first – and that begins with teachers.
It isn’t clear where we’ll get the money, but what is clear is that a different approach is needed. Although graduation rates are improving, there is little to suggest that our graduates are being prepared for higher education or the workforce.
The time for excuses is yesterday. Pay now or pay later.