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Republicans Hope Salary Increases Ease Teacher Turnover

Emerging Issues
Dave DeWitt

Diane Ravitch is an education historian. She’s also a best-selling author and hugely influential on social media. In the past few years, she’s also become the champion for traditional public school teachers. What she isn’t, is subtle.

“North Carolina is bleeding talent,” she told the crowd at the Emerging Issues Forum in Raleigh on Tuesday. “North Carolina is bleeding experience. North Carolina has a brain drain caused by bad policy.”

Ravitch received a response normally reserved for rock stars from the ballroom filled with teachers, education policy wonks, and mostly democratic lawmakers.

Before her speech, in a quieter conversation, Ravitch was no less adamant in criticizing the latest plan introduced by Governor McCrory and Republican leaders to raise base pay for teachers in the early stages of their careers.

"I think it's a terrible idea. And I don't know of any profession where you insult the experienced professionals and expect to get better results." - Diane Ravitch

“That’s so divisive,” she said. “I think it’s a terrible idea. And I don’t know of any profession where you insult the experienced professionals and expect to get better results. Who’s going to teach the young teachers coming in? There may be a point where young people are making as much money as experienced people. That doesn’t make any sense at all. I think it’s a terrible proposal.”

Details of the Republican proposal are becoming more clear.

For one, the plan’s architects say it will raise the salary for all early-career teachers to at least $35,000 per year.

“It’s important to note that this isn’t just for a beginning teacher,” said Eric Guckian, McCrory’s Senior Education Advisor. “But it’s teachers from beginning teacher to year nine. So it’s almost ten year-teachers, which is where we’ve had the highest turnover.”

That means 40,000 or so public-school teachers in North Carolina will see a sizable raise. But it also means nothing for teachers with more than ten years’ experience, unless they are picked as one of the top 25 percent of teachers at their school and receive a small bonus – another controversial policy enacted by Republicans.

Whether the higher salaries will stem the tide of teachers leaving the profession remains to be seen.

A panel at the Emerging Issues Forum presented their own personal stories of why they left, and money and respect were common threads.

With no salary increase this past year and the elimination of both tenure and the salary bump for teachers who earn masters degrees, some believe there could be a mass exodus of teachers before this fall.

Republicans don’t believe that will happen.

"What we think this announcement shows is a commitment to get our beginning teacher pay at a point where we're not just competitive with our neighboring states, but we're ahead of our neighboring states." - Phil Berger

“Individual teachers make up their minds on what they are going to do for a variety of reasons,” said Senate Leader Phil Berger. “What we think this announcement shows is a commitment to get our beginning teacher pay at a point where we’re not just competitive with our neighboring states, but we’re ahead of our neighboring states.”

Teachers, understandably, are skeptical. But skepticism, for most, won’t prompt them into abandoning their teaching careers.

“I believe I’ll be at my school for my career,” said Kimberly Daughtry, an elementary school teacher in Northampton County, on the Virginia border. “Even though, I’ll be honest, with our pay rates it would be easier to go ten minutes and cross the line to make more money. But I’m not in education for money; I’m in education to help the kids. And the kids there need us.”

To help those kids sometimes requires being creative, and overcoming systemic shortfalls. For Daughtry, that means turning to her mother for help.

“When I became a teacher my mom said ‘I’m going to do what I can to help you get through the rest of your teaching career,’ and she just donates things on a regular basis,” Daughtry said. “If I’m missing something I need in my classroom, I’ll call her up and say ‘hey, mom, we need about ten packs of notebook paper to get us through the next nine weeks. Can you help me out?’”

Daughtry is returning to her class after the two-day Emerging Issues Forum, renewed and excited for the future.

Policy wonks and lawmakers will stick around Raleigh to try to hammer out ways to boost her salary to a level they all say she deserves.

But no matter what they come up with, it won’t change the reality that her chosen profession is under-funded, and at times, under-appreciated.  

Dave DeWitt is WUNC's Supervising Editor for Politics and Education. As an editor, reporter, and producer he's covered politics, environment, education, sports, and a wide range of other topics.
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