N.C. educators report shortage of licensed, permanent teachers

As state lawmakers enter the final stretch of the budget process, educators are calling on them to do more for struggling schools and students.

Posted Updated

Laura Leslie
, WRAL Capitol Bureau Chief
RALEIGH, N.C. — Some North Carolina teachers and their allies say the state has a shortage of teachers in every core area, and they're calling on lawmakers to boost teacher pay and other funding to help solve the problem.

A spokeswoman for the State Department of Public Instruction said the state's overall vacancy rate has actually held stable despite the pandemic, and it's expected to improve by the end of September.

But the N.C. Association of Educators says statewide numbers don't tell the whole story. They say teachers are leaving the state or the profession due to low pay and lack of respect.

The group held a news conference Friday with teachers, parents and students to discuss the chronic shortage of licensed, permanent teachers in classrooms.

The problem is worse in rural areas where counties can’t afford the supplements and signing bonuses that larger, wealthier counties can offer, leaders said. It's especially hard for those school systems to recruit teachers in high-demand areas, like mathematics or special education.

Phillip Gillis, a teacher and vice chair of the Person County School Board, said his county's vacancy rate is over 13%, which he called "alarming."

When his district gets extra money from the county or state, it has to be spent on fixing crumbling buildings, not on teacher supplements, Gillis said.

"We do all we can," he explained. "We work with our county commissioners, we work with our local government. We do what we can in Person County. We cannot compete with the tax base of larger counties and larger cities."

Letha Muhammad with Education Justice NC said it’s an issue of equity that lawmakers should have addressed two decades ago. She called on lawmakers to fully fund the consent agreement in the Leandro lawsuit, something neither chamber's budget would do.

"I would just call on all of us to reach out to these legislators, to blow their phones up, to fill their email boxes, and tell them this budget that they have come up with in the House and the Senate is not enough," Muhammad said. "And we demand more."

"This problem won't be solved without state support," said Kristen Beller with NCAE. "There's just no way for rural counties to make up for the year for decades of underfunding in those areas."

Beller says it's also a problem in wealthier urban counties where long-term substitutes can teach classes for weeks or months without a license or expertise in the subject matter.

The NCAE is asking for more money for rural counties to help them compete for teachers. They're also asking lawmakers to raise teacher salaries more than 5.5 percent, treat teachers as professionals, and put a bond before voters to help repair and renovate underfunded schools.

House and Senate leaders say their spending on education is adequate. They say the judge in the Leandro case can't order them to spend more.

Leaders of the two chambers will officially begin their final round of negotiations next week.


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