Recruitment & Retention

Teacher Pay Raise a Mixed Deal in North Carolina

By Stephen Sawchuk — August 13, 2014 4 min read
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North Carolina teachers are finally getting a raise, but not necessarily under the terms they wanted.

Under a budget deal signed into law Aug. 7 by Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, the raises will average 7 percent. But they are concurrent with a radical revamping of the state salary schedule and the specter of new differentiated-pay plans.

Among other provisions, the deal wraps “longevity pay” stipends for veterans into teachers’ base salaries, and directs districts to offer more to teachers working in certain subjects and schools. In all, the raises are worth some $282 million.

It comes amid tense political battles in the Tar Heel State over per-pupil funding and teacher tenure. North Carolina was once viewed as a leader for supporting programs like National Board certification, but enrollments in the state’s teacher-preparation programs have fallen, and some out-of-state districts—including Houston’s—have even been recruiting North Carolina teachers.

Teachers’ salaries, which have been essentially frozen since 2008, have been a particular concern. Teacher pay in North Carolina had fallen to 46th in the nation as of 2012-13, according to National Education Association tables, prompting worries about attrition.

Republicans, who control both chambers of the state legislature, were under pressure to raise teacher pay, without tax increases.

Newer Teachers Benefit

Under the deal hammered out by lawmakers, the state’s 37-step schedule for paying teachers will be condensed to just six steps, with pay boosts for teachers coming every five years, rather than annually.

Teachers will be shifted onto the new pay scale, so the actual amount of their raises will vary considerably depending on how much they were previously earning. While no teacher would make less than he or she did the prior year, actual raises would vary from less than 1 percent, for a 30-year veteran, to more than 18 percent for teachers entering their fifth and sixth years in the classroom.

Across the scale, the heftiest raises benefit newer teachers, a change from typical across-the-board percentage raises, which focus more money in the hands of veterans.

That makes some sense since teachers who are still early in their careers tend to have low salaries and leave at high rates, said Jacob Vigdor, a professor of public policy and economics at Duke University, in Durham, N.C., who had testified before a state task force examining teacher pay.

“You want to target teachers who ordinarily have high turnover rates, particularly at the beginning of their careers; you want to improve the quality of people you recruit, and you want to keep them on board,” he said.

House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, both Republicans, echoed that theme in announcing the budget deal.

“Investing $282 million in pay raises will make North Carolina competitive nationally and encourage the best and brightest teachers to make a long-term commitment to their profession, our students and our state,” they said in a statement.

Veterans Unhappy

Many seasoned teachers, though, are unhappy.

“Veteran educators who in my opinion deserve far greater consideration than they received, are quite disappointed in this budget,” said Rodney Ellis, the president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, a National Education Association affiliate.

And the association believes that the average 7 percent raise figure is misleading because it incorporates former longevity payments for those teachers, too. Formerly, teachers with 10 or more years of experience got annual lump-sum payments worth a small percentage of their salaries. Subtracting those out lowers the average raise under the budget deal to about 5.5 percent.

Still, on one front, the NCAE is pleased: The final deal doesn’t include a plan Republican senators had considered that would have instituted a voluntary pay-for-tenure swap. (A law that phased out tenure in North Carolina by 2018 was declared unconstitutional by a state superior court judge in May.)

Meanwhile, under a differentiated-pay program, local school boards must submit proposals to establish bonuses based on teaching in hard-to-staff subjects or schools, teacher-evaluation scores, or the assignment of extra duties. The best plans will probably be written with teacher input, Mr. Vigdor said.

“The right way to do this is to bring your workforce to the table. I think that’s just good policy,” he said.

In the meantime, Mr. Ellis said that it’s unclear if appropriators can sustain the raises in coming years. And teacher pay is not the only hot-button issue in the budget. Another provision ends the guarantee of more state education funding when districts’ enrollment projections rise.

Republican leaders made that change because prior years’ projections ended up being overstated. But superintendents and some Democrats fear that the shift will lead to budget uncertainties and interfere with hiring.

Staff Writer Andrew Ujifusa contributed reporting.
A version of this article appeared in the August 20, 2014 edition of Education Week as Long-Awaited Teacher Pay Raises Drawing Mixed Responses in N.C.

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