Editorial: Commitment to quality: Key step to better public schools is better teacher pay
Tuesday, July 5, 2016: To live up to our state constitutional obligation, we should recognize we don't pay all our teachers what they deserve or give schools the resources they need.Posted — Updated
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There are a lot of ways to look at funding public schools and how much teachers are paid in North Carolina. Unfortunately many of those ways – and we’ve watched just how many can be employed by the General Assembly’s leadership – leave too many students short-changed and their teachers among the worst paid in the nation.
That’s right – when teacher pay is 41st in the nation, eighth among 11 Southeastern states and lower than any of our neighboring states – that’s the label that fits.
During the recent debate on the budget, State Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, crowed that within two years North Carolina will rank number 1 in the Southeast for teacher pay. How would that happen? Well, only if North Carolina continues promised pay increases while the other states don’t increase their teachers’ salaries at all over the next two years. Not a likely scenario.
What might be a wiser path is to focus on the North Carolina teachers who are being left behind because of where they teach.
The average pay that legislators talk about in their school funding debate is a fantasy to teachers in most of North Carolina. It includes local supplements, bonuses and other benefits that teachers in a few larger, urban school systems receive. Also, there tends to be more teachers with more experience – thus greater pay – in the larger and wealthier school districts, the Public School Forum of North Carolina has found.
While there is much debate at how to provide education – methods, traditional schools, charters, vouchers for private schools, and more, one thing remains clear and vividly defined by North Carolina’s Supreme Court in 1997: all children in North Carolina have a fundamental state constitutional right to the "opportunity to receive a sound basic education." Improving teacher pay, particularly in hard-to-recruit areas of the state or in some subject areas, has been a focus of Superior Court Judge Howard Manning’s efforts to implement the landmark Leandro state Supreme Court decision.
The low pay of our teachers, the wide variation in pay from county to county, urban and rural, the continued assault on basic public school classroom resources, are all evidence that our state is not living up to the rights we declare. Worse, it appears that we’re actually cutting back and denying them on the basis of economic station and geographic location.
Rather than seizing on opportunities to manipulate the data to give a rosier glow on the figures, let’s agree that we are not living up to our obligation to children and teachers. We do not devote the resources, emblematic in how North Carolina pays its public school teachers, to provide every child in the state the opportunity for a sound basic education.
Given that recognition, there can be a true and sincere discussion – and action – to move toward better teacher pay throughout North Carolina, not just in a few, wealthy, school districts. A commitment to pay all teachers salaries commensurate to the demands for quality is the easiest way to rise from the basement of national rankings.
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