How Republican actions strengthen N.C. schools
Regarding numerous editorials and Point of View submissions about the General Assembly’s education budget: There are some dishonest but powerful special interests in Raleigh who forget what our public schools are about. Instead of focusing on the kids, they’re focusing on money for their union members. The way they talk, you’d think North Carolina schools are not going to open this year because there is no money and all the teachers have been fired.
This year, Republican lawmakers voted to spend the most money on K-12 public education in state history. We appropriated $360 million more for our schools – a 5 percent increase over last year’s budget. Over half the state budget is devoted to education. And North Carolina spends close to $5 billion to provide our state’s teachers a package of salary and benefits worth an average of $55,264 for 10 months of employment.
Last fall, voters overwhelmingly re-elected a Republican legislature to strengthen our schools. By passing the Excellent Public Schools Act, we’ve focused on three objectives:
1. Strengthen student literacy.
2. Provide parents tools to make better informed decisions.
3. Increase classroom accountability and reward our most effective teachers.
Approximately two-thirds of our fourth-graders read below grade level. That’s why we’ve focused on reading in the early grades.
In addition, we’ve recognized it is critical for parents to know which schools are succeeding and which are failing.
Under our plan, schools will be graded A-F – just like our students. This transparency will help school boards and parents identify underperforming schools and encourage improvements.
Finally, it’s widely agreed that the most important factor in enhancing student achievement is a high-quality teacher. The overwhelming majority of our educators are top-notch, and they’re invaluable to the success of our children. Those teachers should be recognized and rewarded. That’s why our budget includes $10.2 million for annual merit pay raises for the best educators.
Beginning in 2014, the top 25 percent of teachers identified by their local school boards will receive four-year contracts with built-in annual pay increases. That means over the next four years, those highly effective teachers could earn an additional $5,000 through a permanent salary increase.
Unfortunately, there are some bad teachers out there – and if you’re counting on one to educate your child, then you understand it’s a real problem.
In 2011-2012, just 17 of North Carolina’s 97,184 teachers were dismissed for cause. Clearly, our school administrators couldn’t remove underperforming teachers from classrooms. Why? Because of guaranteed lifetime employment offered through the outdated tenure system. The new system allows teachers to work under contracts that are renewed based on performance – like in nearly every other profession.
Change isn’t always easy. But it’s time to embrace this opportunity to empower our children to reach their full potential.
Sen. Phil Berger
The writer, a Republican, is the Senate president pro tem and represents N.C. Senate District 26. The length limit was waived.