North Carolina’s teachers this week provided a good lesson for those who sit in their classrooms: If you want something bad enough, don’t stop chasing it.
After a budget compromise was struck on Tuesday, teachers across North Carolina will enjoy the largest raise in North Carolina’s history that comes without a tax increase, a robust 7 percent. That would boost pay for early career teachers to about $35,000 a year, ranking the state about 32nd in the country; currently, the starting salary for teachers in North Carolina is $31,000 a year, which, according to the National Education Association, ranks the state 46th in the United States.
The announcements followed months of lobbying by teachers, who often angrily complained that the General Assembly, primarily Republicans, was increasingly hostile to education. But in the end it was the Republicans, pushed by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who got the deal done, and it was done with little pain for the teachers as no teacher assistant positions were eliminated — although the question of where the state would find the necessary $282 million to pay for the raises has not been satisfactorily answered for skeptics.
It is little reported but teacher pay in North Carolina began to slide when the General Assembly was controlled by Democrats and Bev Perdue, also a Democrat, was in the governor’s mansion. The roots were in the Great Recession, when revenues began to shrink, tying the hands of the state — which by law must have a balanced budget — and making impractical any pay raise for teachers.
Proponents of the raises say that the salary increase will slow the exodus of teachers out of North Carolina, and make us more competitive with neighboring states, which were all paying their teachers better than North Carolina, when recruiting teachers.
It will take time, but better pay will mean higher-quality teachers, and that will mean a better education for this state’s young people. That will be to the benefit of all North Carolinians.
Republicans in the General Assembly damaged themselves with educators months ago when they tried to link pay to performance while doing away with tenure, an effort that was loudly shouted down.
We still believe that there should be a method to compensate teachers based on performance and not longevity, but before that should be considered it was imperative that North Carolina take that 7 percent step so that our teachers are fairly compensated.
That has been done, so we hope that the effort to better reward our best teachers can be revisited. The effort to compensate our teachers fairly should include making sure our most effective ones are the best paid.