Raleigh, N.C. — The state's largest teachers' association marked National Teacher's Day on Tuesday by calling on Republican legislative leaders to "restore respect" for their profession.
The list of changes sought by the North Carolina Association of Educators included both budget and policy items, including making changes to the way the state grades schools on an A through F scale, restoring longevity pay and extra pay for a master's degree and restoring the potential for career status rights for teachers who had not yet earned them when state lawmakers eliminated them in 2013.
NCAE President Rodney Ellis said North Carolina's teacher turnover rate is the highest it's been in the last 15 years, while enrollment in teacher training programs is down by 30 percent.
"We are no longer a teacher destination state," Ellis said.
Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, is a teacher. He said one of his students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Education told him last semester she wanted to be a teacher until she returned to her old high school for a visit.
"Her own teachers have told her, 'Don’t do it,'" Meyer said. "How did we get to a place where our own teachers feel so battered that they’re discouraging young students from moving forward into the profession?"
"It is an issue of teacher pay, but it’s more than that," explained Todd Warren, an elementary school Spanish teacher from Greensboro. "It’s about conditions that we’re facing in the classroom. We’re continuously being asked to do more with less."
Dwindling funding has left teachers footing the bill for "crayons, pencils, paper, Kleenex, toilet tissue in some cases. We’re not talking about high technology items to launch us here into the 21st century. We’re talking about basics," Warren said. "A lot of society’s problems are being left at the doorstep of the school, and as teachers, we’re stepping up to bear that burden – and we’re feeling almost no support from our North Carolina General Assembly."
NCAE is asking lawmakers to raise both teacher pay and per-pupil funding to the national average and commit to keep them there.
"North Carolina is 46th in per-pupil spending and has a textbook and educational resource fund that is still well below pre-recession levels. In addition, North Carolina ranks 42nd in average teacher pay," Ellis said. "If some of our basketball teams were ranked 42nd and 46th in the country, a state of emergency would be declared."
None of the budget proposals currently under consideration would get either line item anywhere near the national average. Even the governor's proposal for an average 5 percent increase would raise the state's teacher pay ranking to only 32nd. Republican Senate leaders have signaled that even 5 percent is unlikely to happen this year, saying they'd like to include raises for other state employees as well.
While Republican legislative leaders are quick to point out that they have increased spending on education every year, those increases have, by and large, only kept pace with the state's growing enrollment numbers.
Asked how the state would pay for such a large spending increase, Ellis said that would be up to lawmakers, but he added that they could find the money if they want to.
"This is about priorities. It’s about whether our elected leaders are going to invest the surplus budget in education and our students or continue to give more tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy," Ellis said.