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Thursday, May 8, 2014

McCrory's teacher compensation plan a start, but it needs details, support

Posted By on Thu, May 8, 2014 at 3:09 PM

As he rolled out a new, multi-phase teacher pay plan Wednesday, Gov. McCrory said the existing compensation model "is old, it's outdated, and it doesn't frankly work for the 21st century."

The governor is absolutely correct. By most measures, North Carolina has fallen behind our neighboring states when it comes to education funding. We lag our peer states on everything from starting teacher salary to average teacher salary to per-pupil expenditure. North Carolina ranks last among the states in teacher salary growth from 2002-03 to 2012-13.

For those of us advocating for a teacher pay raise, the governor's plan is a meaningful step in the right direction.

It begins to address the immediate concern - losing our best teachers to other states and other professions - and the long-term, complicated issue of how North Carolina pays educators.

MeckEd is asking our state lawmakers to help stem the tide of teachers leaving the profession - or worse yet, leaving North Carolina for teaching jobs in Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee or Virginia. The fact that these states pay a teacher an average of $3,635 more per year is among the reasons why young people are turning away from the teaching profession in alarming numbers. Enrollment at UNC Charlotte's college of education is down 40 percent from a year ago. This number should serve as a wake up call to all of us about the impending teacher shortage.

The governor's plan, which calls for 2 percent raises for all teachers this year, attempts to right that trend.

We should note that this proposal is just that - a plan. It still needs support from the General Assembly. And that's where the first major question comes: How will North Carolina pay for these solutions? The state budget office recently forecast a revenue shortfall of $445 million for this fiscal year, a reality some lawmakers say makes it difficult to support teacher raises during the legislative session that starts May 14.

And it's still unclear how, exactly, the state will pay for the long-term structural overhaul of the teacher compensation process. It also remains to be seen how we will choose to evaluate our teachers' performance as part of a new system.

These are all questions our legislature will need to answer as the plan moves forward. But it is critical we act.

Parents, teachers and members of the business community must let our representatives know how important these investments are to our state's long-term success.

They should also thank the governor for his promise to reach out to school superintendents for advice. That CMS Superintendent Heath Morrison and his colleagues from other urban districts were willing to stand alongside the governor at his press conference speaks volumes.

Our elected officials should trust these school leaders to provide a critical "boots on the ground" perspective as the governor's plan is fully developed. McCrory should be applauded for his willingness to let local school districts shape a compensation plan on the front end, rather than reacting to a program after its become law.

Would we like to see our teachers paid at the national average, as they were before the recession? Absolutely. But we are encouraged by this initial effort.

Budgets reflect a state's priorities. Adjusting North Carolina's spending plan to invest in our teachers - and, ultimately, our next generation - is a priority we all should support.

Bill Anderson is executive director of MeckEd, a nonpartisan nonprofit champion for excellent public education. He is a former high school teacher and principal.

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