Yesterday State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson raised a few eye brows by suggesting teachers be exempt from having to pay any state income taxes. Her justification was to keep North Carolina teacher salaries competitive with surrounding states. A press release from the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) on the subject notes that North Carolina teachers currently rank 46th in the nation in teacher pay.
While I’m in favor of eliminating state income taxes — for all North Carolinians, the Superintendent’s comments miss the mark and cloud over important points.
First, DPI cites National Education Association salary survey data as the source of NC’s ranking (46th) . However NEA data include salary only and not benefits or other forms of compensation. It should also be noted the data does not account for regional differences in cost of living. While teachers in California or New Jersey may have higher salaries, a dollar spent in North Carolina can generally go farther than a dollar in other high cost of living states.
Second, some of the current financial difficulties teachers feel have been inflicted by an ill-fitting teacher salary schedule. The current salary structure for teachers provides small step increases on the front end and more on the back end. (For a good analysis of the problems with NC’s Teacher Salary Schedule see here.) The current salary schedule also bases increases not on student performance but by years of experience and credentials – two criteria that have no direct linkage to improved student performance. The emphasis on time contributes to the unacceptable situation where excellent teachers and average teachers are making the same salary. That’s the sad state of affairs in many districts and why we must find a better way to pay teachers; one that rewards performance and gives local school officials flexibility. We all know excellent job performance needs to be rewarded. Local education officials need flexibility to attract and retain good teachers. These realities have propelled the inclusion of a Teacher Compensation Study in the Senate budget bill and hopefully the outlines for a new way to compensate teachers. That’s a far better long-term solution to resolving the current problems.