You’ve heard the outcry over teacher pay in North Carolina. But do you recognize just how much worse North Carolina has been than every other state in the nation over the past decade?
North Carolina ranks dead last – 51st – in what has happened with teacher pay in recent years, and we’re not even close to 50th. Average teacher pay in the state dropped nearly 16 percent from 2002 to 2012 when adjusted for inflation.
That all puts North Carolina 46th overall for teacher pay, $9,500 behind the national average and ahead of only New Mexico, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Mississippi and South Dakota.
Clearly it’s time to act, and the Republicans who control state government recognize that. Legislative leaders say they want to do something, and Gov. Pat McCrory told the Observer editorial board last week that he’s willing to spend political capital to get it done.
Some have alleged that Republicans’ newfound desire to raise teacher pay is just a political calculation in an election year. We don’t really know or care whether it is or isn’t. All that matters is that the legislature and governor agree on a sustained commitment to getting N.C. teacher pay where it needs to be. And remember: Democrats were in charge for most of that decade when North Carolina was tumbling down the rankings.
The question is whether the governor and legislators will make meaningful progress. The public needs to keep the pressure on them to do so.
There are legitimate questions around what a pay raise plan should look like. The biggest is whether the legislature can give teachers a raise without giving the same raise to all state employees. That is purely a political question, and the answer is yes.
McCrory must figure out the answers and persuade members of both parties to get on board in the short session that starts May 14. He has a blueprint: In 1997, N.C. teacher pay ranked 42nd. Gov. Jim Hunt, a Democrat, crusaded on raising it to the national average over four years. Republican House Speaker Harold Brubaker joined him, and large bipartisan majorities pushed North Carolina’s ranking up dramatically.
McCrory and this legislature should do the same. It’s past time.