Viewpoint

Big pay raises? N.C. gives teachers just a tank of gas

Sen. Phil Berger touts teacher pay raises in the proposed budget this week.
Sen. Phil Berger touts teacher pay raises in the proposed budget this week. tlong@newsobserver.com

In February I was fortunate enough to attend a small CMS teacher roundtable discussion with our newly elected governor, Roy Cooper, at Collinswood Language Academy. Gov. Cooper talked about being raised by a public school teacher and being a product of public schools from elementary through law school. He thanked teachers for weathering the economic storms of the past few years, specifically acknowledging veteran teachers having been left out of recent pay increases.

After hearing teachers’ concerns about everything from support for early education to teaching assistants, Cooper held a press conference announcing his intention to raise teacher pay 10 percent over the next two years. Flanked by beaming teachers, he vowed North Carolina would lead all Southeastern states in teacher pay in three years’ time and reach the national average in five. After years of stagnating salaries and rising insurance premiums, I indulged in a little optimism that life as a teacher in our state might be about to change.

parmenter
Parmenter

Fast forward to this week’s release of a proposed state budget. N.C. Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger triumphantly tweeted about “big teacher pay raises,” and in a statement praised his Senate and House colleagues for continuing their effort to “dramatically increase teacher pay and improve education outcomes.” He added, with no apparent irony, that “Gov. Roy Cooper should support this plan that achieves what he has said are important priorities for our state.”

The newly unveiled North Carolina state budget does include increases in teacher pay, but they are neither big nor dramatic. Many educators – including veterans who have devoted 25 years or more to our state’s children – will see an increase of $30 a month. That amounts to little more than a tank of gas, which will hardly be enough to allow teachers to quit their second or third jobs.

This new budget comes at a time when education in North Carolina is mired in a unique crisis, with enrollment in our state university teacher preparation programs down 30 percent over the past five years and other states luring our teachers away with higher pay.

In the movie Groundhog Day, weatherman Phil Connors is caught in a time loop, repeating the same events day after day. Eventually, this maddening repetition causes him to reexamine his priorities and radically alter the course of his life. For N.C. teachers weary of watching the annual charade of elected officials congratulating themselves on yet another budget which does not significantly improve teachers’ lives, this may just be their Phil Connors moment.

Parmenter is a teacher at Waddell Language Academy.

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