Obama: On teacher pay, it’s not the Jim Hunt days in N.C. anymore

President Obama mostly talked about national issues such as equal pay for women, child tax credits and student loan debt during his town hall meeting at Charlotte’s ImaginOn on Wednesday. But he detoured a little bit at one point to slap North Carolina Republican legislators for cutting spending on education.

A woman whose husband is a teacher asked Obama what the federal government can do to boost teacher pay. Obama pointed out that teacher pay is mostly funded by state and local governments. Then he suggested the N.C. legislature hasn’t done well by teachers in recent years.

“The reason North Carolina did better economically than many of the other mid-Atlantic and Southern states was because the Research Triangle and the emphasis on education. My good friend Jim Hunt, the governor who placed such a big emphasis on it,” Obama said.

“Funding now here in this state, and teacher pay, is ranking as low as it gets. And so part of it is just pointing that out and hopefully understanding this shouldn’t be a partisan issue. It shouldn’t matter whether you’re Republican or Democrat. You should want to make sure schools are successful and have ... teachers who are motivated and have professional training but also are making enough of a living that they can afford a middle-class lifestyle.”

To be accurate, North Carolina teacher pay does not rank at the bottom. It does rank dead last on what has happened to teacher pay relative to inflation over the past 15 years. Gov. Pat McCrory and legislators took a first step at fixing that last year. But they still have a long way to go.

Here’s Obama answering the question:

UPDATE at 6:18 p.m.: Gov. Pat McCrory just responded to Obama’s remarks. In an email, McCrory said, “I was disappointed to learn that the President used a portion of his quick visit today to unfairly and incorrectly malign our education system in the great state of North Carolina, then hop back on Air Force One and return to Washington.

“The facts are clear. I signed one of the largest teacher raises in state history and more students are graduating high school now than during any time the three Democrat governors who preceded me were in office.

“I would urge the President in the future to stick with the facts - and refrain from ‘editorializing’ on a quick trip funded by taxpayers.

“I invite the President to come back and spend some time to visit our great universities, community colleges and K-12 schools so he can see our successes firsthand.”