Hunt’s advice on teacher pay

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 7, 2014

To paraphrase an old financial services commercial, when the “education governor” speaks, people should listen.
Former Gov. Jim Hunt had something to say about education in an oped column in the News & Observer of Raleigh. In brief, the former Democratic governor urged Gov. Pat McCrory and state legislators to make a commitment to raising the pay of N.C. public school teachers to the national average over the next four years. “Not talk about it, or vaguely promise it,” he says, “but do it.”
That would be a leap. As Hunt points out, North Carolina currently ranks near the bottom in average teacher pay. Teachers can bump up their salaries simply by moving over the state line into South Carolina or Georgia. Closing the gap will require a commitment from state leaders — and from N.C. taxpayers.
But Hunt is confident the goal can be reached — and with good reason. He and the legislature did it back in the 1990s through the Excellent Schools Act, which raised standards as well as pay and passed the legislature with “powerful bipartisan support.” The cosponsors were Republican House Speaker Harold Brubaker and Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight, a Democrat.
By the year 2001, teacher pay in North Carolina had reached the national average, with the average salary rising by more than a third, to $42,000. That in itself might be a hollow achievement, however, if not for a corresponding improvement in student performance. During that period, “our average SAT scores rose 40 points, more than any other state. Our students made the highest gains on the National Assessment of Educational Progress of any state,” Hunt says.
Pay is only one part of the education eqation, and state education leaders say education policies such as ending tenure and linking teacher pay to student performance are designed to reward the best teachers while weeding out the bad ones. But in terms of the state’s ability to attract and retain superior teachers, here’s another statistic to consider: The state also ranks near the bottom in starting salaries for teachers — hardly an enticement for signing up the best and brightest young grads.
Hunt suggests a four-part plan for phasing in salary hikes. First, the governor and legislators have to pledge their support and then follow through with legislation. Citizens have to recognize the importance of competitive teacher pay and voice their support. “We the people must want to do it … speak up for it and … pay for it,” Hunt says.
The question is, will we the people heed the education governor’s good advice?