BY JENNIFER FERRIS After passing a budget that sent busloads of teachers rushing to the state capitol to protest, Governor McCrory recently attempted to offer up a concession to our state’s educators. Citing a need to focus on outcomes rather than on tests and rankings, the Governor announced on August 1st the creation of a $30 million fund designed to reward exemplary teaching.
This so-called Education Innovation Fund will give a one-time $10,000 stipend to teachers who have been chosen by their peers as having particularly successful outcomes. “Productive teachers whose students achieve higher academic outcomes are paid the very same as teachers who do just enough to possibly get by,” McCrory told attendees of the NC Conference on Education in Chapel Hill. “Teachers are not a class, but professionals who should be rewarded based on their individual value to their students and their school.”
The idea of teachers receiving merit-based pay has been pervasive in McCrory’s budget planning during the recent legislative session. The 2013-2014 fiscal budget that the Governor recently signed into law removes a pay increase for teachers who earn master’s degrees– a move which angered teachers and administrators from the Appalachians to the Outer Banks.
Rodney Ellis, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, calls this shift away from rewarding teachers for their loyalty “divisive.” He elaborates: “I would encourage the governor to focus on lifting every educator and student up in North Carolina, and not divide us and pit one professional against the other. It takes an entire school community working together to provide quality education and we all deserve to be fairly compensated.”
The Innovation Plan, which will receive funding from federal Race to the Top grants, will only be made available to the top 1% of North Carolina teachers. An editorial from the Charlotte Observer points out that this means a teacher could be the second-best in his or her school, yet would never see a bonus.
North Carolina already has among the lowest teacher salaries in the country—a national study ranks the Tarheel State 46th in overall teacher pay. Does it really make sense to create a system where more teachers earn even less money? McCrory lauds the new state budget for its tax changes which will increase all teachers’ income by 1% by decreasing their taxes. Unfortunately, this tax decrease only applies to those making more than $250,000 a year— a salary not a single public school teacher in North Carolina currently earns.
In fact, one out of nine NC teachers earns only $31,000 per year, and the average teacher salary statewide is $45,000 per year– nearly $10,000 less than the national average. Under the new state budget, starting in 2014 the top 25% of teachers will receive a $500 raise each year—which amounts to $20 more per paycheck– for the next four years. This incremental increase will bring teachers up to a new salary of $2000 more a year by 2020.
So 1% of teachers will receive a one-time $10,000 stipend, and 25% of teachers will get $2000 extra annually. Where does that leave the other 74%? What will inspire young teachers to come to North Carolina, or to stay in their jobs? Who will work in lower performing schools or districts, knowing that they can earn more out of state, at easier jobs? Rewarding teachers for performance can be a fantastic tool for inspiring leadership, but it cannot be the only one.