Raleigh, N.C. — Gov. Pat McCrory has said that raising teachers' salaries will be a priority during his second year in office, but there are big questions about how.
An across the board 1 percent pay hike for all state employees and teachers would cost about $160 million. Just raising teacher salaries by 1 percent would cost $50 million per year, according to estimates by legislative staffers.
"We've under-invested in our teachers. This is a long-term issue," Eric Guckian, McCrory's senior education policy adviser, said on this week's episode of "On the Record." Guckian and N.C. Association of Educators President Rodney Ellis spoke with reporters Laura Leslie and Mark Binker about the fact teachers have had only one pay raise in the past six years. "We recognize that whatever we get done in 2014 is not going to make up for the shortfall that we have. This has got to be a long-term solution."
Lawmakers have said they back an increase but not if it requires increasing taxes.
In order to get the most out of whatever money is available for a pay increase, McCrory has talked about raising the salaries of early-career teachers as well as those teaching in particular subject areas, such as science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, subject areas.
"We have to begin with an across the board raise before we begin talking about how you compensate teachers for working in STEM," Ellis said. He said the state should focus on raising teacher salaries to where they would have been if they hadn't been frozen before differentiating pay for certain teachers.
Guckian said that the $30,800 starting salary for teachers is one of the biggest complaints he has heard when talking to teachers and one place the governor wants to focus in terms of a pay raise.
"The biggest issue, we think, and the biggest pain point is in that starting salary," Guckian said. "We've got to make choices around fiscal responsibility and that's why we're really going to focus on those first 10 years, particularly getting that base pay up....We want to raise the floor and then we'll raise the ceiling."
Also during this week's On the Record:
- If teacher salaries do go up, what should be the target? Many people, such as former Gov. Jim Hunt, have encourage lawmakers to aim at the national average. Not everyone agrees. "The idea of a national average is very compelling, and everybody wants to see a ranking," Guckian said. "I think, though, when you look at cost of living – I'm originally from Rhode Island, and Rhode Island is among the top 10 in their investment in teachers. But ... it's much more expensive to live in a place like Rhode Island, New York City, (Washington) D.C. And when you compare those things, I think it's apples and oranges."
- Guckian said he would not favor a much-talked-about 60-30-10 plan that would limit salaries and how much time a teacher would spend in the profession. "We want the teaching profession to be a destination and a career, not a layover," Guckian said.
- Both Guckian and Ellis said public schools needed more flexibility in how they teach students. Both men said the state's current testing regimen limited how much public schools could pursue innovation. "We are testing our children to death," Ellis said, "It is one of the things keeping us from being flexible in our classrooms."