Once in a while in politics, the public comes together in such unison and for such a sustained period that elected leaders hear the message and act.
North Carolinians have been clear for some time now that they believe teachers in this state are underpaid. They have the facts on their side: The state ranks dead last nationally in what has happened with teacher pay over the past 10 years and now ranks 46th for average pay – a place no state worth its salt would accept.
Perhaps Gov. Pat McCrory got the message, or maybe he just recognizes what’s right. In either case, he offered encouraging words Tuesday.
“Teachers in North Carolina had one raise in the last five or six years and that is unacceptable to me, and unacceptable to the legislature and unacceptable to the people of North Carolina,” he said at a Raleigh press conference. “And that’s why we will get teacher raises done this year.”
McCrory said that his education adviser, Eric Guckian, is working closely with House and Senate leaders to craft a deal in this summer’s legislative session.
Democratic critics immediately jumped on the governor, dismissing his pledge as a vague, empty promise designed to appease voters in an election year. Politically motivated or not, the governor’s words Tuesday don’t deserve such criticism. He and the legislature should be judged on what they do. A blanket chiding of McCrory for his promise Tuesday makes him damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t.
It’s true McCrory and Republicans didn’t do anything for teachers last year and McCrory would not name a dollar figure Tuesday. And asked directly if he would commit to raising N.C. teacher pay to the national average, he ducked.
But he did vow to make North Carolina “competitive” on teacher pay. Importantly, he vowed not to “put a Band-Aid” on the issue and said pay needed to be fixed “not only for the short term but in the long term.”
That’s an essential part of the promise. North Carolina’s teachers have fallen so far compared with the rest of the country that a small one-year bump would be almost as insulting as doing nothing.
It’s disappointing that McCrory wouldn’t commit to raising pay to the national average. North Carolina should value its children enough that even average isn’t good enough. But given how far we trail, becoming average would be a challenging but realistic goal. McCrory and the legislature should aspire at least to that.
The governor specified boosting starting salaries (currently $30,800) and targeting harder-to-fill subjects. Those are smart moves but insufficient; teachers at all levels and all subjects lag their peers and North Carolina must offer across the board hikes. Signing bonuses for teachers of certain subjects might be warranted, but they shouldn’t be allowed to skew the overall numbers by being included in calculations of average teacher pay.
The state could have a surplus of $100 million or more going into the next budget year. At least some of that could help teachers.
We understand Democrats want to take their shots at McCrory. But he and the Republican-led legislature are moving in the right direction on this issue. We’ll hold our fire until we see how committed they truly are.
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