GOVERNOR ANNOUNCES EDUCATION INITIATIVES: Aims to boost teacher pay, textbook funding

by Whitney Kenerly

Aims to boost teacher pay, textbook funding

Governor Pat McCrory traveled to NC A&T University in Greensboro on May 7 to make an announcement about changes to teacher compensation in North Carolina. While McCrory seemed excited about the announced changes to the education budget, it still might not be enough to mitigate the frustration felt by teachers across the state.

McCrory made five major announcements specifically about education. First, $3.6 million will be used to expand early childhood education.

McCrory also wants to double the budget for state funding for textbooks to $46 million. The governor said that he had seen the condition of textbooks while visiting schools in the state and realized the need for better instruction materials.

McCrory next said he would keep his promise of ensuring a base pay of $35,000 for every teacher in North Carolina. This still falls short of the national average, which was most recently estimated by the National Education Association at $36,141 for starting teachers.

Fourth, the governor said that all North Carolina teachers could expect to see an average raise of 2 percent in addition to the adjusted base pay. For a new teacher at the starting base pay salary, this raise would be around $700 extra a year.

Lastly, McCrory announced that North Carolina would pilot a new Career Pathways for Teachers (CPT) program as a long-term pay plan system.

The announcement of the new Career Pathways for Teachers plan was emphasized as the most significant change to the education budget. Printed on a banner behind the podium on stage, Career Pathways for Teachers was clearly the star of the morning.

CPT aims to structure base pay for teachers based on years of experience and demonstrated leadership. The plan will provide bonuses to teachers who work in hard-to-staff schools or teach in STEM fields. CPT promises a 10 percent raise to teachers who hold advanced degrees in the subject they teach, and a 12 percent raise for those with National Board Certification.

The maximum base salary will be $50,000 for any teacher. Teachers currently making over $50,000 will remain on their current salary schedule. According to the CPT plan, no teacher will receive a salary reduction.

McCrory seemed very excited about CPT, proclaiming that no other state has a similar program in place and that he hopes North Carolina will “lead the way.”

Richard Cartwright, a veteran Latin teacher at Page High School in Greensboro said, “My sense is that this is nothing new.” Cartwright sees too many similarities between CPT and the older system of teacher compensation. “To me it sounds like the administration is trying to take credit for rebuilding it back to the way things were 20 years ago,” said Cartwright. “They are the ones who tore it down.”

Guilford County Association of Educators President Elizabeth Foster says the new plan isn’t enough. “We are so far away from where we need to be to be competitive it’s absurd,” said Foster.

North Carolina is ranked 46th in the country for teacher pay, and McCrory hopes that the combination of short-term pay raises with the long-term CPT plan will make the state more attractive to young, talented teachers.

“For years, teachers have suffered through little to no pay raises as the state had to endure one of the toughest economic recessions in generations,” said McCrory. “The Career Pathways for Teachers framework reverses that trend with modest raises in the short-term, and a meaningful, long-term plan that empowers teachers to determine their own financial future while at the same time giving local school districts the flexibility to address the most pressing needs of their students and community.”

While the 2 percent pay raise for the short-term is meant to alleviate frustrations, new teachers with lower base salaries and college loans are unlikely to feel that much difference from a few hundred dollars more a year.

Even more experienced teachers like Cartwright wouldn’t see that significant of a pay increase. “I’m happy for any increase, but I don’t think that even offsets the cost of living,” said Cartwright.

McCrory also echoed the concern of many North Carolinians that the state isn’t able to attract bright, young, talented minds into teaching anymore. This is something that Foster attributes to the lack of compensation. “Because we don’t have a competitive base pay we’re going to lose good teachers,” said Foster.

While McCrory hopes to create a more competitive base pay for teachers, current new teachers often struggle to make ends meet while balancing all of the demands of teaching.

“Beginning teachers are often given the more difficult classes,” said Cartwright. “That, combined with low pay and the high level of responsibilities, makes it kind of unappealing. So, I’m not surprised that a lot of young people don’t want to stay, especially the talented ones.”

Cartwright is two years away from retirement and happy with where he is in his career now, but he recognizes the struggle of new teachers who came into the profession under a different system. “I’m a beneficiary of all of the good things that were put in place years ago,” said Cartwright. “The newer teachers coming in don’t feel that.”

School districts can start applying for funds for CPT during the 2014-2015 school year. About $9 million has been allotted for the Career Pathways Fund that will finance the three-year pilot program for CPT in eight different school districts. Budget Director Art Pope said that the money needed for the Career Pathways Fund is “already built in to the budget.”

City Council members in Greensboro briefly discussed the governor’s newly announced Career Pathways for Teachers program on May 7. Jamal Fox had attended the announcement at NC A&T and summarized the program to other members. Councilman Zack Matheny expressed his support for the program.

When asked whether or not Guilford County Schools should be included in the pilot program, Foster said that the proposed CPT plan was too incomplete. “I just don’t see any point in being a pilot school program if you’re not going to fill in all the other pieces,” said Foster. “It’s going to take way more than what [Governor McCrory] is offering to get us even close to being competitive.”

In terms of what teachers would like to say, Cartwright emphasized the importance of state-funded professional development not just for teaching AP and IB courses, but for a teacher’s field of study.

“It makes you excited about what it is you’re teaching,” said Cartwright.

“Until we’re treated like the professionals that we are it’s laughable,” said Foster.

“I’m still not optimistic because we aren’t even talking about increasing base pay to national average.” !