Since I’ve had the honor of being elected your governor, teachers, principals and superintendents have been telling us that we must raise the base pay of North Carolina’s teachers if we expect to attract and retain skilled professionals in the classroom. We have teachers in our state with up to five years’ experience who are still making the $30,800 annual salary they made when they were first hired.
This month, we began to turn their advice into reality. With the support of the lieutenant governor and legislative leadership, I announced a proposal that will increase our teachers’ base pay by nearly 14 percent over two years. When fully implemented, this pay hike will put significantly more money in the paychecks of 42,000 teachers. For the first time in our history, no teacher in North Carolina will make less than $35,000 per year. This historic pay raise will not require a tax increase and will make North Carolina nationally competitive and a leader in the Southeast. Our base teacher pay will be higher than Tennessee, South Carolina and Georgia.
This is only the first step of a comprehensive plan. As the revenue outlook becomes clearer in the coming months, our goal is to have future proposals that will reward veteran educators who help our students achieve high levels of academic success. Our long-term goal is to make it possible for our most effective teachers to remain in the classroom and be among the highest compensated professionals on campus. We believe every North Carolina classroom should be a teaching destination, not just a layover to another career.
Despite this major improvement in base teacher pay, our proposal has been criticized (even before it was announced) as insufficient by the usual political cynics. I welcome fair criticism. But reasoned criticism does more than call for the lofty pay levels, which we all seek. It must identify where we get the money to pay for raises. As governor, I have the responsibility to balance the budget and make sure our tax system is fair, balanced and promotes economic growth. I also have the responsibility to make sure other state employees, such as nurses, the transportation workers who cleared our roads and the highway patrol officers who answered calls during last week’s winter storm, are fairly compensated.
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Raising teacher compensation is not a goal unto itself. It’s a strategy to raise the academic performance of every student by having a highly effective teacher in every classroom.
Longevity and degrees earned are important factors in compensating teachers, but we must also reward teachers based on their contribution to the academic success of our students. To that end, we must respect their professional judgment, restore their classroom authority and reduce the testing burden so teachers have enough time to teach.
Teachers have told me that much of their personal joy comes from watching their students learn and grow. For them, few things can match the joy in a student’s eyes when a difficult concept clicks in their mind or an impressive presentation is delivered.
As governor, I will continue to work to give teachers the tools they need so their students – regardless of who they are or where they come from – will not only fulfill their own aspirations, but those of their teachers as well.