Whatever the motivation for a proposal to boost the number of teachers in North Carolina in scientific fields and special education, the idea has merit. Sen. Chad Barefoot of Wake County, a Republican, announced the new N.C. Teaching Fellows Program last week.
It would offer forgivable loans to new teachers who agreed to teach two years in a North Carolina school for each year they got a loan. Teachers covered by the loans would be teaching science, technology engineering, math and special education. About 160 teachers per year could get the loans, which would be given on a competitive basis.
A program to draw more teachers to the state, particularly in these subjects so important to a state and world in the midst of a technology boom, is worthy. The unfortunate thing is that North Carolina lost ground after Republicans killed off a highly thought-of teaching fellows program, which was working. It was part of a curious agenda in which GOP leaders and legislators seemed to want to criticize public education at every turn, from killing the teaching program to creating a voucher program giving public money to some people sending their kids to private schools to expanding charter schools without adequate accountability.
Clearly, Republicans have gotten a message, either from polling or from talking to constituents, that the conventional public schools to which most North Carolinians send their children are important to those families, and so the GOP’s got a little of that old time public education religion.
That’s OK. The important thing is that North Carolina be able to recruit more and better teachers.
But if that’s going to happen, there will need to be more than a scholarship program to accomplish it. The state, despite some raises in the last few years — no coincidentally in election years — still lags in overall teacher pay, and absent some dramatic action on that score, a teacher shortage will surely ensue.
So in addition to this teaching program, the GOP-led General Assembly needs to break its obsession with tax cuts for the wealthy and business and holding the line on the state budget even though the state has rebounded from the Great Recession.
GOP leaders have paid enough attention to their special interests and big contributors and business elites. All have done well under a now-ousted Republican governor and a still-Republican General Assembly. Now it’s time for other North Carolinians — teachers, students and their families, working people, struggling middle-class families — to do well.