Today marks the start of teacher appreciation week, which means my kids are headed off to school each day with homemade cards and hand-picked flowers. I love that we honor our educators with treats, but one week of catered lunches and carnations is not nearly enough. To truly care for our teachers, we need to pay attention to their bottom line. And that means paying them a competitive salary that will keep them in the class for years to come.
In the last decade, North Carolina has slipped from its perch as a national leader in competitive teacher pay to 46th in the country. Due to the recession and state budget cuts, teacher pay has actually dropped by 7.5% since 2008, when adjusted for inflation. Teachers have begun to flee the state, leaving by the hundreds for school districts with more competitive wages. But instead of working to increase teacher pay, lawmakers have recently made the state an even more hostile environment for those who work in schools.
After a controversial decision to end teacher tenure, Governor McCrory announced plans to incentivize new teachers by raising starting salary from $30,800 to $35,000 over the next two years. This $4,200 increase will put us on par with starting salaries in other nearby states. But experienced teachers get left in the lurch, facing 16 years of work before they can earn $40,000 a year.
A legislative task force recently met to study teacher compensation. A report from the group recommended increasing pay for teachers with less than 10 years of experience– but members of the task force say this recommendation doesn’t reflect their discussions. Rep. Tricia Cotham, who sat on the committee, said long term teachers need pay increases as well, pointing to educators who clean pools, babysit, and wait tables to make ends meet.
Unfortunately, the outlook looks grim for across-the-board teacher pay raises. Recent tax cuts instituted by the NC General Assembly mean the state will lose $2.4 billion in revenue over the next five years. Programs such as Head Start are shouldering longer waiting lists, and increases in student population mean school districts have to get by on even less each year.
McCrory’s plan to increase teachers’ starting salaries is a good start. But unless we want to lose long-term teachers with the experience and institutional memory to enrich our students, we must do more. This teacher appreciation week, take a few minutes to write to your school board and your local officials. Tell them what teachers mean to your family– and why long-term teachers deserve a raise. Use the hashtag #SayThanks on social media to spread the word about how you plan to celebrate the teachers in your life.