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A lobbyist and advocate for public education said if North Carolina teacher salaries are not competitive, local schools will lose their “rockstar” teachers to other states that pay better.
Rachel Beaulieu, senior policy adviser for the Public School Forum of North Carolina, addressed about 60 people at Thursday morning’s Eggs & Education Forum held at the Wilson Country Club. The event was part of the 2018 Public Policy Series hosted by the Wilson Chamber of Commerce and the Wilson Education Partnership and sponsored by The Action Group.
Beaulieu said teacher salaries in North Carolina have risen but still lag about $10,000 below the national average.
“This year, the General Assembly invested close to $12 million more in teacher salary increase,” Beaulieu said. “We have had a long way to go over the years where nationally we had not been ranked very well at all and there was a big drive for North Carolina to be No. 1 in the Southeast in teacher salaries.”
The K-12 public education budget for North Carolina is $9,546,315,927.
“We are losing rockstar teachers to Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia, or Florida or New York,” Beaulieu said.
Beaulieu said North Carolina needed to retain its “homegrown” teacher candidates.
“We are losing them because they can cross the state line for $10,000 more a year,” Beaulieu said. “We have got some work we need to do, so the General Assembly has consistently been investing in teacher salary increasing, making adjustments on the scale over time.”
“This overall is very good news and we are moving in the right direction,” Beaulieu said.
In 2016-17, North Carolina was eighth out of the 12 Southeast states for teacher pay.
Beaulieu predicted these numbers will increase due to the General Assembly’s latest investments.
Average salary for a teacher in the state is around $50,861. The national average is $60,483.
“We had been 37th in the nation over 10 years ago and now we are moving up toward the national average,” Beaulieu said.
Local supplements to teacher salaries can make the difference in recruiting top-tier teacher candidates, she said.
“When we know, as a matter of evidence, that the biggest game-changer in a child’s academic life is that teacher in the classroom and the next-biggest differential is the principal at that school,” Beaulieu said. “This is where the difference in your local relationships between your local school board members and your local county commissioners and your local government officials, that can make all the difference in recruiting top-tier talent, which we know makes the difference in student achievement.”
Beaulieu said it is “disturbing news” that there is a general state of decline in enrollment in teaching programs at colleges across the state in the last seven years.
“We hear from teachers themselves that they do not want their children going into teaching,” Beaulieu said. “When we are hearing teachers say ‘I don’t want my child to teach, not in North Carolina,’ that’s not a good thing,” Beaulieu said.
Veteran teacher Ann Barnes, a Wilson native who taught in Wake County Schools, listened to Beaulieu and then stood up to make a comment on teacher raises.
“Yes, there are teacher raises and those who are at the beginning of their careers are the ones who in the past have received the most money to try to retain them and keep them interested,” Barnes said. “However, I have a concern and I would like to know your thoughts about what remedies their might be for teachers who have taught 18 or 20 years who did not get a raise this past session. I also have many friends who are in their 20th year. These are excellent teachers. Most of them have master’s degrees. Most of them are national board-certified.”
Barnes said veteran teachers did not get a raise, they lost their longevity pay and they are not getting paid for their master’s degrees.
These are the teachers who know the community and are likely to participate in parent-teacher organizations and school booster groups, Barnes said.
“They have an institutional memory of that school. They are mentoring the young teachers,” Barnes said. “So I think if we are going to try to retain and improve our schools from every county, what can we do for these people who have given their life’s blood to our schools and all they can hear is ‘the teachers got a raise’? Yes, some teachers did, but the ones who have worked the hardest and the longest don’t have a raise today.”
Beaulieu said she agreed with Barnes’ assessment.
“You are right in terms of the data when we look at the salary changes for teachers over the recent years, there have been policy decisions to front-load the salary schedule and to pay younger teachers more along benchmark lines especially when they first come in, at the five-year mark and at the 10-year mark and we do not see the salary increases percentage-wise for veteran teachers,” Beaulieu said. “For that, although it is not my place to apologize, I am sorry. I am not meaning to be cheeky about this because it is a serious thing. I wish that I could tell you that one of my predictions for 2019 would be veteran teachers get the biggest salary raises in North Carolina history.”