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State makes laudable strides in teacher pay

Teacher Protests North Carolina-1

Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, asks teachers to refrain from causing a disturbance in the House and Senate chambers during a teachers rally in Raleigh in May. Thousands of teachers rallied the state capital over wages and funding for public school classrooms.

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Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Even though there’s still much work to do, it’s worth pausing for a moment to celebrate some success: North Carolina teacher pay has made continuous and laudable improvement in the past few years.

It’s a welcome trend after this state’s recession-ravaged teacher compensation flirted with the bottom of the barrel.

According to figures compiled by the National Education Association, teacher pay here has risen from 47th in the nation in 2013 to 29th in the current school year. That’s wonderful but not nearly enough for a state that needs a great education system to continue its extraordinary economic progress.

Before the Great Recession, public-school teacher pay stood at the national average. We’re still a fair bit short of that. According to the NEA’s figures, average teacher pay here is $53,975, up more than $2,700 from the previous school year. But that’s about $7,800 behind the national average. The state still has a steep climb ahead if our leaders are serious about returning to the national average.

We’re looking good in the context of the Southeast. Our teacher pay has risen from fourth in the region to second. Political leaders have been quick to make hay on the numbers. A spokesman for House Speaker Tim Moore pointed out that Republicans “inherited a ranking of 47th from Democrats and overcame their opposition to pass all five consecutive salary raises and provide dramatically higher paychecks for our state’s educators.” He neglected to mention the recession and that Democratic lawmakers not only supported all those raises, but often pushed for larger ones. We know these people are professional politicians, but isn’t improved education one place where partisanship is off the table and the best interests of our children are on it?

Fortunately, Republican State Superintendent Mark Johnson mostly kept politics out of it when he reacted to the NEA’s figures. “North Carolina’s meteoric rise in just five years is a major accomplishment and shows our commitment to teachers and students,” he said in a statement. “We must continue to be aggressive on teacher pay and also on treating teachers as professionals in other ways — providing advanced teacher roles for professional growth, better pay for assistant principals and principals, and providing 21st century tools and support for educators and students.”

We’ll take it another step. It’s not just teacher pay that suffered during and immediately after the recession. Thousands of other important positions were cut in our schools, especially teacher assistants who provided valuable classroom help and filled other key roles. Countless school nurses, guidance counselors and other valuable support positions were eliminated.

Now, as we face a national epidemic of school violence and mass shootings, our school systems are begging for more nurses, counselors and psychologists, as well as the completely reasonable provision of at least one sworn police officer (a trained school resources officer) in each of our public schools.

It’s good to see our teacher salaries stand second in the Southeast, but given our state’s challenges, even No. 1 in the region isn’t good enough, nor is simply hitting the national salary average. There’s no need to pay teachers the kind of money they get in places like New York or Connecticut, because our cost of living is far lower. But better than the midpoint? Yes, definitely.

North Carolina has made great progress building one of the nation’s powerhouse economies that’s attracting some of the leading companies in the world. If we want to continue, we’ve got to build a world-class public education system that will turn out the well-trained, sophisticated workforce these companies need. The investment in our teachers and other education professionals must continue to grow.

The Fayetteville Observer

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Humans of Greenville

@HumansofGville

Local photographer Joe Pellegrino explores Greenville to create a photographic census of its people.

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