In what is likely to be a race that decides the composition of the US Senate, North Carolina’s Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan is currently running neck-and-neck with Thom Tillis, the Republican Speaker of North Carolina’s House of Representatives.
For those of you who aren’t from around here, Thom and his right-leaning cronies have been in control of both the North Carolina House and Senate for the past two years — and in those two years, they have worked to systematically gut public education while heaping never-ending piles of scorn on classroom teachers (see here and here and here and here and here). Essentially, they have been following a recent trend in the Republican party of trying to bend public education to their will or break it to pieces.
To prove JUST how far outside the lines Tillis and his right-leaning cronies are playing, consider that most of their recent #edpolicy legislation has literally been ruled unconstitutional by our state’s Supreme Court. That includes attempts to strip away teacher tenure, to give raises to just the top 25% of teachers in any school district, and to funnel taxpayer dollars into private schools — including those with clear religious missions. When every piece of landmark legislation put forward by a political party runs against our state’s Constitution, we ought to be more than a little concerned.
Tillis is currently trying to win favor among North Carolina voters by touting his leadership in pushing forward a new budget that includes what he describes as “a historic pay raise” for teachers. In fact, in a recent debate with Senator Hagan, Tillis argued that the raise was “the largest in a generation” and that it makes North Carolina “regionally and nationally competitive.”
Now, it IS true that North Carolina’s teachers were given a raise this year and Tillis WAS instrumental in making that happen — so Thom’s not TOTALLY lying to voters.
But to paint our raises in such a positive light overlooks some rather startling truths about teacher compensation — both nationally and in North Carolina:
- The AVERAGE classroom teacher salary in the United States is estimated to be $56,689 in 2013-2014. The TOP of North Carolina’s newest salary schedule for teachers is $50,000.
- North Carolina teacher salaries have been frozen since 2009. Teachers haven’t even seen a cost of living adjustment in their salaries for the past six years.
- In real dollar comparisons, North Carolina teaching salaries have DROPPED by 15% in the past ten years. That’s the LARGEST drop in the nation by far during a time when 23 states managed to increase teacher salaries.
- The majority of the funds for raising North Carolina’s teacher salaries are being pulled from one-time sources (cuts to health and welfare programs, projections for higher lottery revenues, dips into state reserves), calling the permanence of the salary increases into question.
- Even WITH the new salary increases, North Carolina will rank 32 in the nation in teacher pay — which hardly feels “nationally competitive.”
On a more personal level, the new salary schedule doesn’t look all that much better to veteran teachers like me:
- After taxes, I’m pulling in an extra $341 a month. While that is a nice supplement to my salary and I’m MORE than thankful to have it, remember that it is the first change to my salary in 6 years.
- Given that Tillis’s new salary schedule only provides teachers with raises once every five years, it is also the last raise I’ll get for another three years.
- You can decide whether or not seeing your salary change by $4,000 over a DECADE qualifies as “historic” and/or “once in a generation.”
In the end, salaries aren’t what drives me as an educator — and they aren’t what will drive me out of the classroom.
What drives me — and what might eventually cause me to quit — is having the respect of the general community. There was once something beautifully rewarding about being a teacher because you KNEW that people were thankful for the contributions that you made to the lives of kids. Kind words, warm praise and friendly smiles USED to be the norm — and they made up for the low salaries that automatically come with public sector work.
But every time I hear Speaker Tillis bragging about his efforts to “pay our teachers top salaries,” it makes me angry because it is nothing more than a crude attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of North Carolina’s voters from a guy who once made headlines for giving his own staffers raises that ranged from $12,000 to $30,000 per year.
The simple truth is that respecting educators is the LAST thing on Thom’s mind. He’s too busy trying to get elected.
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