Low pay may bring NC teacher shortage

June 25, 2013 

After flirting briefly with teacher salaries at the national average some years ago, North Carolina has been in a steady decline, to the point that currently the state is 46th in the nation in teacher pay. That’s disgraceful in a state that has long boasted of being more progressive than others in the Deep South and has advertised itself as a place that values education.

But now, welcome to the era of devaluation, thanks to Republicans in charge of the General Assembly. Not only have they failed to answer the need for higher teacher pay, they’ve acted in a multitude of ways that essentially belittle what those public school teachers do. They’re pushed vouchers for those parents who believe their kids would be better off in private schools, though the public system has remarkable opportunities for children of all needs. They want to expand charter schools, which are public schools on a longer leash, as if to say regular public schools aren’t working.

And pay? Forget about it. In fact, some Republicans have criticized public school teachers just for sport, in part because GOP office-holders believe the teachers are primarily a Democratic-leaning group.

So take state Superintendent June Atkinson seriously when she warns, as she did recently to the Asheville Citizen-Times, that absent action on pay and benefits, North Carolina is certain to face a teacher shortage.

“We are losing ground,” Atkinson said, “and unfortunately there has been a national movement to disparage teachers, to say that our public schools are broken and our teachers are sorry. That tears at the mindsets of our teachers, who are working really hard every day.”

Atkinson, a Democrat, recently asked lawmakers to consider exempting public school teachers from the state’s personal income tax, but that of course fell short. Republicans are focused instead on giving breaks to business and to wealthy individuals.

A shortage is simply inevitable. If a beginning teacher can make more immediately, a lot more, in another state and have a more handsome pay scale over the course of his or her career, how could any teacher who aspired to have a family or achieve some security pass up such an opportunity?

North Carolina has been lucky to get by on the cheap, to draw good teachers who believe in their cause. But our luck is going to run out.

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