A call to action on teacher pay

As the legislature prepares to begin its 2015 “long” session, Gov. Pat McCrory and new House Speaker Tim Moore should take note of the Public School Forum of North Carolina’s annual forecast of issues facing the state’s public schools.

The advocacy group, which has been publishing such annual forecasts for nearly two decades, released its latest one Wednesday.

Not surprisingly, improving teacher pay sits atop the forum’s list of most pressing issues facing the state’s leaders.

We hope Republican leaders realize that last year’s much-ballyhooed “largest teacher pay raise in history without raising taxes” was a downpayment on a much bigger problem.

As the forum notes, North Carolina’s average teacher salary has fallen 14.7 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars from 1999 to 2013. Coming under Republican and Democrat administrations, that marked the biggest drop in the nation.

While last year’s legislation included average teacher pay raises of 5.5 percent, its benefits landed heavily on newer teachers and left veteran teachers with next to nothing. A teacher entering her 30th year actually earns 1.1 percent less.

That must be remedied.

State revenue could be a problem. Despite state officials’ assurances that it’s too early to worry, revenue projections six months into the budget year are looking increasingly worrisome.

The N.C. Fiscal Research Division says the state’s general fund collections through December ran $199 million below revenue targets. The gap was far smaller just three months into the budget year – $62 million.

GOP leaders, whose 2013 tax cuts cost the state an estimated $680 million this year, have said they want to do more for the veteran teachers they left behind.

But this growing budget shortfall could make them balk.

They shouldn’t.

Unlike a lot of issues in government, this one isn’t complex. It doesn’t require a blue-ribbon panel of experts, or town hall meetings, or focus groups. Just undo some, if not all, of those tax cuts.

That will take strong leadership. If McCrory wants another four years in the Governor’s mansion – and if Moore wants to put his stamp on the House – teacher pay makes fertile ground in which to plant a campaign flag.