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Legislators should listen when teachers march

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Mark Jewell, President of the North Carolina Association of Educators, speaks during a news conference in advance of today's march on Raleigh for more education funding.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Though the average teacher salary in North Carolina continues to tick upward, trends over the last 15 years have left many educators less than satisfied with the state of public education. That’s why 15,000 or more of them, including hundreds from eastern North Carolina, are marching in Raleigh today.

The National Education Association recently released figures showing that teacher salaries in North Carolina improved to 39th in the nation in 2016-17, up from 41st the year before. Additionally, the association estimates that the state will rank 37th in average pay this year at $50,861. Pay for beginning teachers is now at $35,000.

North Carolina’s teacher pay is rising faster than all but a couple of states, according to the office of Tim Moore, speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives. A 6.5 percent increase is scheduled for the 2018 state budget, marking the fifth consecutive year of pay raises, Moore’s office reported.

But the National Education Association estimates that North Carolina teachers have seen their pay drop by 11.3 percent over the past 15 years. Recent raises have only dented past cuts and years of stagnation, teacher advocates say. As it stands, a North Carolina teacher today makes more than $5,000 less on average than in 2003.

And salary alone is not the driving force behind today’s mass demonstration. Per pupil funding has fallen from $6,716 in 2008-09 to $6,115 in 2016-17. The state government, which provides 59 percent of funding for public school districts, is estimated to be 39th in spending among the 50 states. Public Schools First NC attributes the declines to the Great Recession and is quick to note that the student population has increased by almost 67,000 since.

The amount provided to per-pupil funding by the legislature through the state’s general fund — the rest comes from lottery money and other sources — has fallen from $6,300 in 2007-08 to $5,616 in 2016-17.

Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said those planning to march in Raleigh are asking for significant investment in per-pupil spending, a multi-year professional pay plan for school personnel — including tenure, an increase in school nurses, counselors, social workers and other support groups, a commitment to improve the condition of aging schools and a promise to prioritize classrooms over corporate boardrooms.

“May 16 is just the beginning,” Jewell said. “It is the beginning of a six-month stretch where we will find out who is seriously on the side of public schools, public school students and educators. We will be pushing for action and holding those accountable who are not on the side of our kids with the ultimate goal of electing pro-public education leaders in the North Carolina General Assembly.”

The state’s investment in its schools and young people should be increased. We hope that the presence of thousands of educators at the state capitol today will begin to make that point with legislators.

Increasing teacher pay from 41st to 37th is good, but recruiting and retaining the best teachers requires more. At least we can climb out of the bottom third. Maybe we can get close to 25th. Maybe a better target for starting salaries would be something closer to the state’s median income, which is just over $48,000. 

Per-pupil funding levels also speak poorly of North Carolina’s commitment. Only 11 other states spend less per pupil on their schools.

School funding is complicated, with state, federal and local sources all contributing to the mix, and more money does not always produce better results. 

While it may be simplistic to boil needs down to rankings, however, they are a good place to start. And good place for state legislators to continue is to listen thoughtfully when 15,000 or more teachers who know the needs first-hand come knocking at their door.

 

 

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