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WUNC's education coverage is led by reporters Dave Dewitt and Reema Khrais. Dewitt has been with the station since 2003. Khrais is focused on Education Policy Reporting. Browse recent stories here.

'16 Years To Reach $40,000 Salary': Considering Pay Incentives For NC Teachers

Teachers protesting
Dave DeWitt

State lawmakers and education leaders are considering paying North Carolina teachers based on their individual performance, despite  concerns from stakeholders who argue it could harmfully affect students and teacher morale.

Republican Senator Jerry Tillman, an education budget writer, is helping lead a newly-formed legislative task force that will develop recommendations for alternative pay plans. Members, whom include legislators and education leaders across the state, must factor in teacher evaluation measures and student performance outcomes.  

Tillman says rewarding teachers based on their performance is logical.

'Teachers are either good, bad, average. If you put a 1,000 neurosurgeons out there, ten percent of them are going to be at the top. The good ones will be rewarded. - Jerry Tillman

“Teachers are either good, bad, average. If you put a 1,000 neurosurgeons out there, ten percent of them are going to be at the top,” Tillman says. “The good ones will be rewarded.”

Tillman says any future teacher pay evaluation will include how their students perform on exams and whether they are showing improvement.

Judy Kidd, a teacher and president of North Carolina’s Classroom Teachers Association, argues that merit pay discourages teamwork and pits teachers against one another.

“It causes some dissension among teachers. Most teachers work as a group, they share ideas among each other and it’s just a collegial atmosphere,” she says. “So, when you start rewarding one teacher over another, it causes disruption.”

Teacher Contract System

Kidd, who is on the task force, pushed back on a merit pay plan already enacted last year by lawmakers – the teacher contract system. Under that plan, local school leaders are required to identify the top 25 percent of teachers to reward them with 4-year contracts and $500 annual bonuses.

Republican lawmakers are hoping it will incentive the top teachers to voluntarily give up tenure, or career status, which will phase out in 2018.

'Rewarding only 25 percent of teachers seems arbitrary.' - Judy Kidd

Kidd says rewarding only 25 percent of teachers seems arbitrary.

“What is the reasoning behind it?” she asked at the task force’s first meeting on Tuesday.

Tillman responded saying that the state is working with the dollars available.

"We had enough money to do 25 percent, we need to move that up to 100 percent, but we had to start somewhere," he says.

"On the plus side, the $2.5 billion deficit that we inherited is gone, the retirement and health system is fully taken care of for right now. The only unknown elephant in the room is Medicaid, if we had that solved, we could direct dedicated continued dollars to education."

Teacher pay by the numbers:

  • Under the current state base pay scale, it would take a teacher 16 years to reach a $40,000 salary.
  • North Carolina school teachers have only seen one one raise since 2008, which was 1.2 percent.
  • Governor Pat McCrory and legislative leaders recently pledged to raise salaries for teachers early in their careers to $35,000.

Almost all public school districts, except for 11, supplement the state pay with additional pay based on factors like a teacher’s experience, expertise or professional credentials.
Tim Barnsback, president of Professional Educators of North Carolina, says local districts should take more responsibility in providing incentives for teachers that are not merit-based.

“Education is a team sport. It seems we start rewarding individual teachers rather than the whole group of teachers and making everyone feel whole," he says.

The group is expected to give its final recommendations on teacher pay to the General Assembly by April 15th.

>> Leaving Teaching: 2 NC educators who are married talk about why they quit.

Reema Khrais joined WUNC in 2013 to cover education in pre-kindergarten through high school. Previously, she won the prestigious Joan B. Kroc Fellowship. For the fellowship, she spent a year at NPR where she reported nationally, produced on Weekends on All Things Considered and edited on the digital desk. She also spent some time at New York Public Radio as an education reporter, covering the overhaul of vocational schools, the contentious closures of city schools and age-old high school rivalries.
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