Phil Kirk: GOP record on education is strong

Published 10:42 pm Monday, September 19, 2016

By Phil Kirk

Special to the Salisbury Post

Recently my friend, Fran Koster, wrote an op-ed in which he claimed to be a rebuttal to John Hood’s column about education, teacher pay, and pilot programs. While he stated that Hood did not tell the whole truth, neither did Koster in his attempt to downplay the tremendous Republican gains in public education in recent years.

First, Republicans, including Governor McCrory, have made it clear they are looking for more ways to reward effective teachers rather than paying them based on longevity and advanced degrees. I have been unable to find credible research which says the “old way” of paying teachers was effective or fair to really good teachers.

Now that the average salary for a teacher in North Carolina will pass the $50,000 mark for the first time in our history, Republicans are looking for ways to reward performance, leadership, extra work, and other ways, including pilot programs.

He claims that the teachers who are teaching the smartest students will be eligible for most of the rewards and that is true in the case of Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate students. It is not true with the third-grade teachers who will be eligible for up to $6,000 in bonuses because they will be awarded based on student growth in reading. Since lower-performing students most often have the chance to show the most growth and result in their teachers’ receiving bonuses, Koster’s argument is false.

There is nothing wrong with rewarding teachers of smart students, as Koster seems to say. In fact, it is my belief that our public schools have neglected the gifted and talented students in recent decades in an effort to increase the learning for those who found themselves behind in school. The pendulum has swung too far and is one of the primary reasons parents of high-performing students have taken their children out of traditional public schools in favor of charter, private and home schools.

Koster also attempts to cast doubts on McCrory’s claims about teacher pay increases on his watch by writing that $14.3 million will be “diverted” to pay teachers in affluent schools. The fact is that $14.3 million is a drop in the bucket in the K-12 schools’ $9 billion annual budget in state funds. Republicans have raised overall spending on public schools by 18 percent. Also the money for the pilot programs Koster opposes was not diverted. It is new money appropriated to reward teachers for performance. We need to do more in this area.

Last year Republicans raised teacher salaries by more than any other state in the nation. Salaries for beginning teachers were increased by 14 percent. Teachers with six through 10 years experience received raises between 6 and 17 percent. This year teachers received pay increases averaging 4.7 percent and those experienced teachers between 8 and 19 years on the pay scale received raises of 10-13 percent. Average teacher salaries have been increased by 15 percent.

It is not true that teachers are leaving North Carolina in record numbers. Last year, 6.8 percent left teaching to pursue a different career and only 1.1 percent left to teach in a different state. In the last four years, four times as many teachers moved to North Carolina to teach compared to those leaving.

The statement that McCrory has cut textbook funding is false. McCrory and the General Assembly have tripled funding from $23 million to $72 million in the past three years. In addition, $143 million in state and federal money has been approved to transition classrooms to digital and Wi-Fi connectivity.

So Republicans have dramatically increased teacher compensation, offered more parental choice and options for students, stressed the importance of reading, reduced class size in the early grades, increased technology and textbook funding, and much more.

Does that record justify the political rhetoric that Republicans don’t care or fund education? You be the judge.

Republican Phil Kirk, a native of Rowan, was appointed by Gov. Jim Hunt and retained by Gov. Mike Easley, both Democrats, as chairman of the State Board of Education from 1997-2003.