The General Assembly met yesterday for a one-day session on the state budget. To recap, the legislature has been in a months-long budget stalemate with Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. A recent article by Civitas President Donald Bryson provides a more comprehensive overview of the current budget situation.
The day began with back-to-back press conferences from Republican Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (Rockingham) and Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue (D-Wake) along with the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) (Link to full video press conferences here and here, respectively).
NCAE president Mark Jewell was one of four speakers to have the platform at the press conference. The press conference was to ask for higher educator pay and was also a show of solidarity between the NCAE and state Democrats. This is unsurprising given that the NCAE is the state affiliate of the National Education Association (NEA), the largest teachers’ union in the country and arguably the most radically left-leaning.
A number of statements made by NCAE leaders at the press conference were questionable, at best. Civitas has addressed most of these tired talking points in the past, so I’ll only briefly point out the problematic statements and direct interested readers to where you can learn more.
(Note: Each statement includes a time stamp for the location within the WRAL recording of the press conference where you can find the claim in its full context)
Teachers haven’t received a meaningful raise in the past 10 years (28:30). When you consider the combined cumulative 23.6 percent raise that teachers have received over the past five years, it’s hard to find a basis for this statement (see chart below). While the “truth” of the statement is hinged on one’s definition of the word “significant,” it would be difficult to convince most people that raises totaling over 20 percent is insignificant.
Teachers aren’t being treated with the same respect as other state employees (5:40). Jewell urges legislators to treat teachers with the same respect as other state employees. The statement probably refers to the fact that this year’s proposed budget provided teachers with a 3.9 percent raise over two years while giving other state employees a five percent raise over two years. However, it is worth noting that teachers have received much higher raises than other state employees for years, as evidenced in the chart below.
Republicans directly addressed this issue during the original budget process, with Berger having this to say in a press release: “State employees were an afterthought for years, and this budget rightly prioritizes them. The conference committee was able to go to the Senate position on state employee raises while still providing teachers with another raise.”
Where were the NCAE calls for equality with other state employees when teachers were getting favoritism in years past? I do not mean to imply that these two groups have to be at odds with one another, but I do want to emphasize that comparisons to other state employees ring hollow when you consider past disparities.
Public school funding in North Carolina is still well below pre-recession levels, when adjusted for inflation and enrollment growth (10:18). The NCAE and others on the Left like to use the 2008-2009 school year as standard because it represents a pinnacle of spending in the state. Adjusted for inflation, spending before the recession was double the amount spent 25 years prior. Importantly, we should remember that this trajectory did not result in a golden age of student outcomes. Get the full context of this arbitrary goal in this previous Civitas article.
Teacher pay is being sacrificed to corporate tax breaks (11:00, 12:40, 15:30). This sentiment was reiterated by multiple speakers throughout the press conference. “Corporate tax breaks” are the perpetual boogeyman of the Left. North Carolina has, in fact, cut the corporate income tax over the past few years. Despite this, state revenues continue to increase. Providing tax relief to our biggest job creators allows them to put more money in the pockets of their employees. The Left decries across the board tax cuts but has no problem giving away targeted tax breaks. It is the height of hypocrisy. Next time the NCAE blames “corporate tax breaks,” members of the media should ask them if they support the governor’s continued corporate handouts.
Despite many questionable statements, there was one statement from the NCAE press conference that stood out as an accurate point.
Teachers aren’t being paid what they’re worth (15:35). This statement by NCAE vice president Kristy Moore is spot on. Under our current system, teachers are absolutely not being paid for the value of their work. Instead, they are paid what the state salary schedule determines that they are worth. The salary schedule is set by the legislature and assigns a base salary to teachers based primarily on years of experience.
The salary schedule arbitrarily assigns “worth” – and based on the consistent angst over the issue of teacher pay in North Carolina, it is not doing a good job. The true worth of a person’s labor in the job market is determined by the market demand for their skills and talents. Because teachers’ wages are determined by the legislature (through the salary schedule) and local elected officials (through county supplements), the wages have little connection to the fair market rate of their work.
Jewell also criticizes the salary schedule, calling it “broken” (20:05). Ironically, he says that education support professionals, “desperately need” a salary schedule of their own in the very next breath (20:25). Why would we tie even more education employees to this broken model?
Historically, the salary schedule benefits the teachers’ union while separating educators from the power of negotiating their own salaries. Collective payment for services nearly mandates the collective bargaining provided by unions such as the NCAE. But it also disconnects the value provided by teachers or other educators from the compensation they receive for that value. This is bad for most teachers, who are not rewarded for their ingenuity, leadership, or effectiveness. It is also bad for taxpayers who – under the current system – provide guaranteed funding to educators based on experience alone, regardless of the return on their investment.
Elimination of the state salary schedule is the logical next step to fixing this disconnect. Principals and superintendents should have greater control of their personnel budgets, just like high-level executives in almost every other profession do. We expect NCAE to oppose any solution which would diminish their bargaining power and influence. But it is noteworthy that they correctly identified the core problem in the whole teacher pay discussion: the disconnect of teachers from the worth of their labor.