By Susan Phipps
Our political leaders in Raleigh seem to be having a little trouble with reality these days. After years of starving public education in North Carolina, our elected state leaders are now claiming that North Carolina schools and teachers are better off than ever.
Don’t you believe it. Three main points in recent political ads from Raleigh incumbents will illustrate what I mean.
First claim — NC teachers are getting the largest salary increase in the nation. The ‘average’ increase this year is 4.7%, which does sound generous … until you realize a lot of teachers are NOT getting that much, AND teachers had a 0% increase last year, while other states have increased salaries gradually every year to keep up with inflation. I’d say it looks like Raleigh only gives raises in election years, but sometimes they don’t even do that. Most state employees receive a little extra pay for every year they work for the state. Two years ago (another election year), the legislature took away that Longevity Pay from teachers and just rolled it into their salaries … and called it a raise. I call it a Shell Game.
Second claim — North Carolina is spending more on education than ever. This ignores the fact that we have more STUDENTS than ever and that the number of students is growing a lot faster than the budget that is supposed to cover educating them. What this means is that per-pupil spending is actually FALLING, and North Carolina is now in the bottom five states in the country. The state is also spending about HALF what we did 8 years ago on technology and instructional materials (think old, out-of-date textbooks and software trying to prepare students for the jobs of the future). And there are a lot fewer teaching assistants for the youngest students, so they are not getting the one-on-one help they need in order to master basic skills.
Finally, the most outrageous claim of all — that the average teacher in our state earns $50,000 a year. The teachers I know and work with would love to make that much. The only way Raleigh could come up with a figure like that is to include the Wake County local salary supplement (which the state does not fund) in their pay figures, conveniently ignoring the fact that Wake County pays a much larger supplement than other counties do, and some counties pay no supplement at all. In Watauga County, the supplement for teachers with 15 years of experience is less than half the amount the same teacher would receive if he or she were working in Wake County.
Right now, someone with a four-year degree and a specific professional license in almost any other field can expect to earn far more than the professionals to whom we entrust the futures of our children, and they will surely receive much larger raises than the $16,000 a North Carolina teacher can expect to receive over a 30-year career.
If we truly value our children’s educations, we need to value their teachers.
Susan Phipps is a retired Watauga County educator and adjunct faculty member in the ASU College of Education, helping to train student teachers.