One would have thought, when Republican lawmakers raised starting teacher pay in North Carolina to $35,000, that they’d marched into classrooms in North Carolina with sacks of gold and silver. Of course, that salary is hardly a king’s ransom, and teachers with more experience didn’t fare so well. The state remains in the bottom half of the country in teacher compensation.
Teachers also are skeptical of these GOP lawmakers, who have so cheated public education at all levels and undermined conventional public schools with a too-rapid expansion of charter schools and public “scholarships” for children in private schools.
So it should come as no surprise that enrollment in the 15 schools of education in the public university system has dropped – by 30 percent since 2010.
This forecasts a deepening teacher shortage in North Carolina, one that will impact tens of thousands of families.
The shortage will have a severe impact in rural areas and in schools with the challenge of having lots of lower-income students and fewer resources. Indeed, why would a teacher with a family, trying to earn a living and find a decent place to live and hoping for the chance to put aside some savings, go in to a higher-risk situation?
Bill Cobey, chairman of the State Board of Education, offers a weak explanation for the decline in enrollment in teacher prep programs. Though he has fought for teachers, Cobey said the decline in interest reflected a society that emphasizes “making a lot of money as opposed to making a difference.”
North Carolina teachers could make more money, but most of them stay in the profession because they do indeed want to make a difference, and they know they’re never going to make “a lot of money.” That dedication is why North Carolina has long gotten by on the cheap, excepting the period when former Gov. Jim Hunt drove salaries to the national average.
Republicans are going to reap what they sowed with their lackluster support of public education. Unfortunately, the rest of us are going to reap it, too. When there are not enough teachers to get the job done, and classrooms are overloaded and children are being deprived, the political rhetoric from the GOP about lowering taxes on the wealthy and big business for the good of North Carolina isn’t going to pass muster with the people of North Carolina, who support more investment in public education.