Yesterday Governor Pat McCrory unveiled several proposals that would impact nearly all aspects of public education in North Carolina. At the heart of his proposal is a plan that would give teachers an average 5 percent pay raise and veteran teachers a bonus that would average about 3.5 percent. The proposal would boost average teacher pay to about $50,000. According to the Governor’s press release, if the value of health medical and retirement benefits are included, average teacher compensation will surpass $66,000.
The Governor’s proposal also includes a $5 million increase in the popular Special Education Scholarship Grant. The program allows parents to choose the best educational option for their special needs child. The Governor’s plan is meant to address a program that currently has far too many applicants. His proposal will provide funding for 300 additional students.
In addition, the governor’s proposal also includes $2 million in scholarships to attract new math and science teachers, a position North Carolina public schools have found increasingly difficult to fill.
So what does this all mean?
First, let’s start with the positives. The Governor’s commitment to expanding funding for the Special Education Scholarship Grant is commendable. For too long, the educational needs of these students have been ignored. This Scholarship program provides parents the opportunity to find the best education environment – private or public — for their child. It works. And, the numbers show it. The additional money will allow more parents to benefit from a program that provides quite a bit of bang for the buck. Kudos to Governor McCrory.
The Governor’s proposals regarding teacher pay are bold. The consensus among lawmakers on both sides of the aisle was that something more needed to be done with regards to teacher pay. What exactly was yet to be determined. Now the Governor has started to play his hand.
According to the Governor’s office, pay raises and bonuses for teachers will cost $415 million; $250 million for teacher raises and $165 million for bonuses. This isn’t chump change. And where the money will come from hasn’t been discussed. State revenues must be running ahead of schedule. People will be interested to know where the money is coming from.
I applaud the Governor’s attempt to address the problem of teacher pay. It’s a significant and complicated problem. While teacher pay needs to be improved. A real solution must look completely at how teachers are paid in North Carolina. The Governor’s plan doesn’t. The plan continues to award pay raises and bonuses based largely on experience and credentials. It also ignores the need for differentiated pay and fails to give local districts more freedom in setting salaries. Yes, I know the teacher salary structure was collapsed a few years ago. However the same principles apply to the current system. Teacher pay will improve when teachers have a system that pays them according to the value they bring to students and the classroom. While the Governor’s plan raises pay, it fails to correct those shortcomings.
So what’s next? The Governor will likely provide more details to his plan when he introduces his budget proposal in the coming weeks. Interestingly, comments in the press show that most legislative leaders have been largely unaware of the Governor’s proposal. It’s another way of saying there hasn’t been much in the way of cooperation on the proposal between the two branches of government. That’s important since any plan will need to get through the House and the Senate. House Speaker Tim Moore, had said any pay raise for teaches would likely be in the 2 percent range. Moore’s colleague, Sen. Jerry Tillman, a key player on education issues in the Senate, had said he had hoped a teacher pay raise would focus on veteran teachers and be “more than 2 percent.” Maybe everyone is just giving themselves room to compromise. We’ll see.
Lastly, I couldn’t help but notice Mark Jewell’s comment to the Raleigh News and Observer. Jewell is Vice President of the North Carolina Association of Educators,. When asked if he had heard of the details of the Governor’s proposal Jewell said he hadn’t. Still he said, “it’s going to take a lot more than a 5 percent increase to reverse all the damage that’s been done to North Carolina school children.”
Only a teacher union representative could look at a 5 percent raise and find something bad to say about it.