Bless her heart. June Atkinson was well intentioned with her idea this week of exempting teachers from personal income taxes. But the idea is problematic. A reasonable case can be made for exempting from such taxes a number of others in worthy professions firefighters, police officers, nurses to name a few.
Yet Atkinsons suggestion at least makes more sense than Gov. Pat McCrorys urging this week that state education leaders devise ways to boost teacher pay. Ahem, Governor Pat. Thats the job weve given you and N.C. legislators.
To his credit, McCrory did include in his budget a pay raise for teachers. Though at 1 percent, its too little. N.C. legislators included no pay increase for educators in their budget plans. N.C. teachers have seen only one 1.2 percent pay hike since 2008. The state is now shamefully scraping the bottom of national rankings in teacher compensation. Only four states do worse than us in paying teachers.
So, Atkinsons recommendation was a way to at least give teachers some boost in income this year.
And lawmakers arent just shafting teachers on pay. Theyve proposed a number of other initiatives that would make being an N.C. educator less attractive. Among other things, theyve cut the number of teaching assistants, slashed money for teacher development, increased class sizes by 25 percent and jettisoned bonuses for advanced degrees.
Teachers last week confronted one lawmaker at a forum. Many called the plans demoralizing. One high school teacher who makes $34,000 said her salary isnt enough to enable her and her husband to afford health insurance for their three children.
Some Republican lawmakers have already panned Atkinsons proposal. Republican Rep. David Lewis of Harnett County, who helped craft the House tax plans, called Atkinsons suggestion an idea that was not as well thought out as it should have been.
But exempting teachers from income taxes isnt new or wacky.
Other countries already exempt teachers from paying income taxes. Pakistanis are involved in a heated discussion right now about whether to retain its 75 percent tax exemption on salaries of teachers. The government recently decided to withdraw the exemption.
The idea has also been considered in other U.S. states. It was proposed in California in 2000 but wasnt enacted.
In 2011, former U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska and Leo Hindery, chairman of the Smart Globalization Initiative at the New America Foundation and former chair of Teach for America suggested a national initiative. In an opinion piece, they wrote that teachers are far and away the most difficult public servants to recruit and retain and that providing federal income tax relief to teachers would be a powerful response to the demand for them and an important step toward restoring the health of our national economy and our global competitiveness.
Atkinson estimated the cost to give teachers this tax break would be about $300 million. The state Department of Public Instruction tagged it at $250 million. And though she offered no place to find the money, she did note this apt analogy: Much has been said about the need for North Carolina to become more competitive with our surrounding states when it comes to corporate income taxes. Those supporting a cut in corporate income taxes say that the reduction will attract more corporations and then we will have more jobs for North Carolinians.
She added: The General Assembly proposed budgets do not include salary increases for teachers, but corporations expanding or locating in North Carolina certainly need workers who are educated the work of teachers.
Atkinsons plan isnt going anywhere in this legislature, and shouldnt. Its too problematic. But lawmakers proposals to slash education funding K-12 funding has fallen by $170 million in the past five years, notes the Department of Public Instruction and freeze teacher pay again is even more problematic. They should change course.
Good teachers are already fleeing the state. These moves could likely hasten the exodus and North Carolinas free fall to the education bottom.
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