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.

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-- No matter the list, North Carolina teacher pay is in the basement.
-- Teachers in a handful of North Carolina’s most wealthy counties are paid more than teachers in the rest of the state.
-- We know our schools don’t have the resources they need, why won’t we do something about it?

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A CBC editorial: Tuesday July 5, 2016; Editorial# 8026
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

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.

Drill down to the individual school district, and the disparity of teacher pay in our state is stark. The North Carolina Department of Commerce, for economic development purposes, divides North Carolina counties into three categories. Tier 1 counties, there are 40 of them, are labeled “most distressed.” Teacher pay in those counties average nearly 4 percent less than the statewide average and 5.6 percent less than the pay in the 20 Tier 3 least distressed, counties.
How 2015-16 salaries compare (Source: N.C. DPI)
Tier 1 Counties Statewide Tier 3 Counties Base Pay (avg.) $44,304 $43,601 $44,209 Supplement (avg.) $1,292 $3,870 (+200%) $4,060 (+314%) Total (avg.) $45,714 $47,471 (+3.8% $48,268 (+5.6%) Isolate out the 10 most distressed counties and the 10 least distressed – the disparity is starker. Average pay among teachers in the bottom 10 is 5 percent less than the state average and close to 9 percent less than pay in the top 10 counties.
How the 10 most distressed counties compare with the 10 most well-off counties (Source: :N.C. DPI)
BOTTOM 10 STATEWIDE TOP 10 Base Pay (avg.) $43,736 $43,601 $44,217 Sypplement (avg.) $1,417 $3,870 (+173%) $4,799 (+239%) Total (avg.) $45,153 $47,471 (+5.1%) $49,017 (+8.6%) In the extreme, the average teacher pay in Weldon City School District is $42,779 (there’s no local supplement) while the average pay in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro School District is $51,830 (which includes an average $6,315 supplement).

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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