Gov. Pat McCrory takes on teacher pay, but some lawmakers are liable to be skeptical

May 8, 2014 

To his credit, Gov. Pat McCrory is trying to do better with regard to policy-making on public education in general and teacher pay in specific. That’s good, because his fellow Republicans now in charge of the General Assembly could do no worse.

In proposing a pay raise for all teachers this year (2 percent) and the raise of 7 percent for early career teachers he already announced, the governor is responding to a potentially severe teacher shortage in the near future in a state where overall teacher pay ranks a disgraceful 46th in the country.

That, combined with the war on public education waged by GOP legislative leaders, has resulted in enough blowback from an angry public to prompt what is, coming from the governor, a fairly bold education initiative.

Under the catch phrase “Career Pathways for Teachers” the governor proposes a pay schedule for teachers that would give them more in their first years and would reward teachers for teaching in schools called “hard to staff,” which typically are low-performing schools. Teachers also would be given 10 percent more money if they had an advanced degree in the field in which they were teaching. And those with national board certification would get 12 percent more. Teachers who were particularly “effective” or mentored other teachers would get more, also. Local school districts would be charged with figuring the best ways to measure teacher accomplishments.

The proposal, says the governor’s education adviser, Eric Gukian, will mean that teachers who meet the criteria for extra pay could make perhaps $70,000 a year or more. (Currently, they start at about $30,000 with base pay topping out at slightly over $53,000.)

There are some imperfections here, such as the advanced degree criteria. If a teacher had a master’s degree in history, but was teaching English, it would seem he or she would not qualify for that extra pay for an advanced degree. But that degree would demonstrate scholarship beyond the routine and should be rewarded. (It’s ironic that the governor is advocating for this even though Republicans in the General Assembly did away with that extra pay, period.)

Any attempt from McCrory to improve teacher pay is welcome, of course, which is why he was joined at his announcement of the plan by state Superintendent June Atkinson and other superintendents including Jim Merrill of Wake County.

Clearly the governor is responding in part to feedback he got after he proposed raises for beginning teachers and veteran teachers made clear they believe they needed help, too. It’s also likely Republicans have gotten criticism for their assault on public education, which happens to be the way the vast majority of North Carolinians educate their families.

But it was disturbing that McCrory was not joined at his announcement Wednesday by either House Speaker Thom Tillis or Phil Berger, the GOP’s state Senate president pro-tem. McCrory said he had support from Tillis, now in a campaign for the U.S. Senate. But Berger apparently has not seen details of McCrory’s plan, and his office seemed reluctant to offer a full-throated endorsement. While the governor’s office was smarter on this initiative in lining up support before the announcement, Berger, who has been a critic of teachers, has the power to kill off the governor’s proposal. He should have been securely on board.

It’s also somewhat disturbing that the governor and other Republicans want to raise teacher pay but only by having teachers clear certain hurdles to prove themselves. No one would argue that all teachers are perfect, but most have been underpaid and overworked for their entire careers and often have had to pay for everyday supplies. And their competence is measured every day by principals, parents and students.

Finally, the state revenue picture is not good in terms of providing extras, with analysts seeing a $445 million shortfall for the current fiscal year (all those GOP tax cuts for the wealthy). Though the governor’s staff says budget director Art Pope assures them there will be enough money in the governor’s budget to advance this education plan, that seems uncertain.

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