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Good progress on teacher pay

Pat McCrory says he’s been listening. To frustrated and underpaid teachers. To similarly frustrated principals and superintendents. To education advocates and business leaders who know that all of North Carolina suffers if we treat our educators poorly.

The result: A long-overdue news conference Wednesday in which the governor announced a substantial proposal for increasing teacher pay. The plan offers a short-term increase for all teachers, plus long-term financial motivation for educators to improve themselves and their schools. It’s a solid, thoughtful start.

The big, welcome news, of course, is the immediate pay bump. Starting teachers will receive the increase in base pay that McCrory proposed in February, and more veteran teachers will receive raises near or above 2 percent.

The other, perhaps even bigger, news: McCrory is proposing that North Carolina replace its current, antiquated teacher compensation structure with a plan that offers teachers $3,000 pay increases every three years, plus more based on several factors such as willingness to teach high-need subjects, teaching in high-need schools, and taking on leadership roles.

The plan, which would be fully in place by 2018, is an improvement. It gives teachers significantly higher base pay, no matter how many years they’ve served, and it places more emphasis on merit. But the governor had few specifics to offer Wednesday, in part because local districts will have some say in how the plan is implemented. That leaves several unanswered questions.

First, how will classroom performance be measured, and will high-performing teachers receive healthy raises even if they don’t teach high-need subjects or in high-need schools? Also, what’s the plan’s goal? When N.C. Gov. Jim Hunt set out to improve woeful N.C. teacher pay two decades ago, he set a target of reaching the national average in four years. McCrory didn’t do the same Wednesday, but he should. A target holds everyone accountable.

McCrory also was unspecific about how the long-term plan would be funded, saying merely that it would receive priority for new N.C. revenues. He also said, several times Wednesday, that the state is facing a “tough budget.” That probably wouldn’t be the case if the legislature hadn’t passed sizable corporate and personal tax cuts last year.

Finally, can McCrory sell his plan? N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger was noticeably absent Wednesday from the governor’s announcement, and McCrory will face resistance from conservatives who seem more interested in weakening public education than improving it. The governor also will have to persuade Democrats who are poised to criticize anything that comes from a Republican governor.

They should give this plan a chance. It gets closer to the answer to North Carolina’s teacher pay problems. It’s a sign that the governor has been listening – and a signal that he is willing to listen some more.

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