If you’re an educator in North Carolina, you have reason this year to be optimistic. It is, after all, an election year, which means that more people in Raleigh have more reason to at least say they’re doing right by you.
But you also have reason to be pessimistic. This is, after all, North Carolina, where public school classrooms and the teachers who lead them have perpetually been treated poorly by the Republican legislature.
Let’s go with optimism. The legislative short session, which begins Monday, gives lawmakers a new chance to strengthen schools. Here are three items that should be on their checklists.
Real raises for educators
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The first part of the teacher pay debate is behind us. Lawmakers are acknowledging now that N.C. teachers are underpaid. Problem is, lawmakers also acknowledged that two years ago, and all teachers had to show for it were middling raises and insulting one-time bonuses that didn’t move our state far from the bottom of the country in average teacher salaries.
Now, with North Carolina sporting a projected $237 million surplus, lawmakers have a couple of proposals to consider regarding how they can put some of the money to good use.
State superintendent of schools June Atkinson recommends a 10 percent raise for teachers, which would move their paychecks about halfway toward the national average. N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory has a more modest but still promising proposal: 5 percent raises with an additional bonus for teachers with 25 or more years experience.
Republican leaders balked at Atkinson’s proposal, and they haven’t said much about McCrory’s. But House Speaker Tim Moore said he could perhaps squeeze a 2 percent teacher raise out of his chamber and maybe the Senate. That doesn’t move the needle on teacher pay, and it doesn’t change the perception that Republicans don’t particularly mind the recent exodus of teachers from North Carolina.
If 5 or 10 percent is so difficult to stomach in one chunk, our long-time suggestion stands: Commit to raising teacher pay to the national average over four years, the way Gov. Jim Hunt did in 1996. It worked. It can work again.
The second item on the checklist? Revisit an important teacher perk.
The last item on the checklist? Explore a controversial pilot program.