Editorial: Stepping up on teacher pay

  • Posted: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 12:22 a.m.

Guilford County English teacher Karyn Dickerson got it right when she told the Associated Press a proposed increase in North Carolina starting teachers’ base salary was “a good start.”

It doesn’t address other concerns, such as the phasing out of tenure and ending pay bumps for teachers who earn graduate degrees, nor will it put more money in the paychecks of veteran teachers. But it tackles a major problem area that predates Republican legislative control: North Carolina’s ability to offer competitive starting salaries to young teachers. The plan offered Monday by Gov. Pat McCrory and other GOP leaders would raise the current annual $30,800 base state salary (not counting local supplements) to at least $35,000 by the 2015-2016 school year.

While skeptics may see this as an election-year gift, it’s an increaseve lawmakers of both parties have advocated, while blaming the economy, rising Medicaid costs and other factors for their failure to deliver. This time, however, it looks like a done deal — and, GOP leaders say, it can be accomplished without a tax increase.

North Carolina’s average starting teacher salary currently ranks near the bottom among states. The pay boost would jump that to a mid-pack ranking. In so doing, it would put the salary structure on a more competitive footing with nearby states such as Virginia that have recently used their higher starting salaries to entice new graduates or younger teachers to cross the state line for better compensation.

Teachers don’t go into the profession in hopes of getting rich, obviously. But they do need and deserve a livable wage that reflects how they’re valued by our society — and by our state lawmakers. After a drumbeat of criticism about some recent education policy changes, much of it coming from teachers themselves, legislative leaders and the governor appear ready to make good on prior promises to raise base pay. While they’re at it, they also ought to revisit the decision to phase out additional pay for advanced degrees. If legislators are serious about raising the bar for teachers, then they should continue to offer a modest salary hike as a reward for those who are committed to remaining in the classroom and furthering their own knowledge and skills.

Given past controversies, McCrory and legislators still have work to do in convincing educators and many taxpayers that they’re solidly behind the public school system and the teachers who are its frontline leaders. A base pay hike should help recruit new teachers. Keeping veteran educators in N.C. classrooms may be another matter.

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