Patrick Gannon: Where NC is headed on teacher pay

Published 12:35 am Monday, February 8, 2016

RALEIGH — Recently in this space I wrote about where North Carolina is in average teacher pay compared to the rest of the country.

Now, where is North Carolina headed on that front?

The smart bet would be that the state is going to look better when it comes to teacher pay within a couple of years, if not sooner. The topic is getting as much attention as any other as the General Assembly prepares to return to Raleigh for the short legislative session, which begins April 25.

But how does the state climb from 47th in the nation in average teacher pay to a more respectable position among the states?

At a recent legislative education committee meeting, State Schools Superintendent June Atkinson offered one suggestion.

“I would want North Carolina to be extremely bold and to look toward a 10 percent increase for all of our teachers,” Atkinson, a Democrat, told the committee.

But her idea was quickly shot down by Republican legislative leaders who control the state’s purse strings, including House Speaker Tim Moore. The speaker called Atkinson’s proposal unrealistic because it would cost $540 million. Every 1 percent raise for teachers would cost the state roughly $54 million. Moore also said it would be unfair to other state employees, as no money would be left for them.

Moore added that he would support much smaller, across-the-board raises for teachers and state employees, but no one knows yet how much money will be available when all tax revenues are in.

Others are against across-the-board raises for teachers altogether. Terry Stoops, director of research and education studies at the conservative John Locke Foundation, told the committee that raises for everyone means schools are enticing ineffective teachers to stay in the profession, while the best teachers aren’t really rewarded.

But Atkinson and others have stressed that strong base salaries are important to attracting qualified teachers to classrooms in the first place.

But after base pay is considered, it gets trickier.

At that same recent meeting, education experts discussed various ways to try to elevate the teaching profession. They talked about declines in attendance at schools of education in North Carolina and across the nation. Millennials simply don’t want to become teachers.

Atkinson suggested ways for good teachers to get pay increases by being designated teacher leaders and taking on additional responsibilities, such as instructional coach, grade level coordinator, evaluator of other teachers or professional development coordinator. She suggested the state provide a $10,000 allotment for each teacher leader, whether it’s one of every three teachers, one out of five or one out of 10. Clearly, that would be a huge cost as well.

Others suggested initiating multiple teacher pay pilot programs in districts across the state, so education leaders can determine over a number of years which ones work and which ones don’t. That could involve additional money for teaching in low-performing schools and subjects like math, science and technology. It could involve paying teachers for performance based on student achievement or other measures. Some districts already are trying such programs.

Another possibility is offering scholarships to college students who agree to teach in hard-to-staff schools or subjects after they graduate. There are many other ideas floating around.

Most everyone seems to agree that making the teaching profession attractive to the best and brightest young people is extremely important for the future of education in this state.

The hard part will be figuring out what will get us there — and paying for it.

“We have to work toward making teaching attractive,” Atkinson said.

Patrick Gannon is the editor of the Insider State Government News Service in Raleigh. Email: