June Atkinson, Democratic superintendent in the state Department of Public Instruction, made what really wasn’t all that revolutionary a suggestion last week in a state House committee meeting on education pay. She ventured that a 10 percent raise in base wages for public school teachers would be appropriate.
Was Atkinson trying to put Republican lawmakers on the spot? Perhaps, but they deserve that spot. For several years, GOP legislative leaders have bashed public education in their own way, from increasing the number of public charters (draining money from conventional public schools) to vouchers for parents to pull their kids out of public school and send them to private ones (also a drain on public education) to a petulant attitude toward criticism of their lackluster performance on education from some teachers themselves.
Speaker Tim Moore said that a 10 percent raise would not happen and that pay hikes were more likely going to be about 2 percent, if the Senate agrees. Republicans, even in a time of economic recovery, work on a tight budget because their priority is giving tax breaks to business and wealthy individuals, and they’re steering the state toward reliance on more sales and services taxes, which hit those of low and moderate incomes hardest.
Too bad for teachers. And too bad for North Carolina families when a teacher shortage hits. Though Republicans claim their salary boosts for teachers (particularly beginning teachers) have raised the state to the hardly proud ranking of 32nd in the country in pay, the National Education Association puts the ranking for 2015 about 10 spots below that. The state is going to pay a price for that sooner or later, and probably sooner.
Ten percent would be appropriate, and entirely so.