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McCrory teacher pay plan is insufficient

N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory was right when he said on Monday that “$30,800 is not enough to raise a family or pay off student debt.” But he and the Republican-led General Assembly will have to do a whole lot better than raising starting teacher pay by $2,200 next school year and $2,000 the following school year, to truly show all N.C. teachers respect.

Raising starting teacher pay in this state is a good and welcome step. It will lift the Tar Heel state out of the cellar in starting teacher pay. The national average for starting pay in 2012-13 was $36,141, according to the National Education Association. North Carolina’s beginning pay is lower than that of surrounding states and near the bottom of national averages. It will still fall short of Virginia’s starting pay of $36,731 and Alabama’s $36,201.

But raising only starting teacher pay won’t be the “great investment” that McCrory said we need to make in education nor will it alone result in the “high-quality teachers [who] lead to better student achievement” that he cited. He was joined in that statement by Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis.

In fact, if all the state does is boost starting teacher pay, most teachers will get nothing out of the deal. McCrory said 32,000 of the state’s 95,000 teachers would receive a raise under the proposal.

This proposal is a slap in the face to all those other teachers. They have toiled in N.C. schools without a pay raise for all but one of the last five years. And they did so under trying conditions as lawmakers boosted class sizes, eliminated money for teacher assistants and slashed funds for textbooks and other resources.

Delaying raises for them until the “revenue picture becomes clearer” is unacceptable.

Even Mississippi lawmakers came up with a fairer plan last week for teachers there. The starting pay in Mississippi is higher than North Carolina’s at $31,187. The state House there unveiled a Republican-led teacher pay plan that boosts pay for all teachers – starting teachers would get a $4,250 over four years, and veteran teachers would get the same boost if they met certain benchmarks such as earning higher degrees or joining civic clubs.

Of course, in this state, lawmakers unwisely jettisoned supplemental pay for teachers who get a master’s degree. The N.C. plan unveiled Monday does at least allow those who have completed coursework in a graduate program as of July 1 of last year to receive the supplement.

Last year, lawmakers also unwisely made it more difficult for veteran teachers to get a higher salary, ending teacher tenure and putting in its place a system that provides only 25 percent of the state’s teachers four-year contracts and a small pay raise for that period. Far more than 25 percent of N.C. teachers are high-quality and deserve a pay boost.

The N.C. teacher compensation system should be overhauled, but not with a system that rewards only younger or starting teachers – or one that relegates raises for experienced teachers to a roulette wheel.

McCrory and N.C. legislative leaders should draw up a new plan. Boost pay for starting teachers, to be sure, but include the rest of the state’s public teachers as well.

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