GOP finally notices needs of NC teachers

December 1, 2013 

With the 2014 election coming, are North Carolina’s Republican leaders seeing chickens on the horizon, looking to come home to roost?

All of the sudden it seems, the GOP leaders who cut public education and bashed public school teachers for sport during the last legislative session are getting all warm and fuzzy and talking about giving teachers raises.

But this is no “goodness of the heart” revelation. Surely the Republicans don’t believe that North Carolina’s teachers, or its residents, will buy the notion that a new age of enlightenment has arrived and that those champions of private school vouchers and an end to master’s pay have suddenly said to themselves, “Oh, my goodness! Our teachers are 46th in the nation in average teacher pay. We’re shocked, shocked we tell you!”

No, this is likely a product of the fact that the 2014 elections are upcoming and perhaps some polling that shows citizens rather like their public school teachers, many of them miracle workers who turn kids’ lives around.

But talk is cheap, and the state has fallen in the rankings of teacher pay. After flirting with the national average, a goal of former Gov. Jim Hunt’s, the average pay now is at an embarrassing level.

Even a paltry raise of the kind being discussed, 1 percent or 2 percent, wouldn’t do much to alter the state’s ranking.

Currently, the average pay in North Carolina is $45,947, compared with a national average of $55,418. There are reports that some teachers are leaving the state to take better-paying jobs elsewhere.

Even before Republicans took over the General Assembly and commenced to drawing a bull’s-eye on public education, North Carolina was living on luck with regard to teacher pay. With a starting salary of about $30,000, young teachers have to scramble to live, sharing homes and pinching the pennies that are left over after they dig into their own pockets for school supplies.

Teacher pay has long been disgraceful in North Carolina, and without meaning to, GOP lawmakers really cast a spotlight on it – and not a flattering spotlight.

But here’s the rub: Republicans sliced and diced the state budget so much, ensuring tax breaks for business and for the wealthy with a pittance thrown in for average middle class folks, that even as they speak of teacher raises, they have no clue where to get the money.

So they’re talking about the “will” to do something, and Gov. Pat McCrory also is talking about giving teachers more. But Republicans aren’t having a change of heart. They’re worried about a change of party among voters who don’t like attacks on teachers as a political strategy.

What GOP legislators ought to do is abandon some of their misguided tax “reform” and establish a long-term plan that s includes restoring the tenure they took away. The GOP plan should give the state’s teachers substantial raises over a period of, say, five years to get them back to the national average. A one-time, 1 percent or 2 percent raise is going to be seen for what it is: a political ploy to get the GOP through the next election.

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