We Historically Have Underpaid All Our Educator
BY JESSICA WELLS
The Democratic Women of Moore County collect school supplies for low-income children in primary and elementary public schools in our county each year. This effort, while rewarding for our members, is also unfortunately necessary to help prevent teachers from spending their own money on supplies.
We obviously can’t cover it all, but every donation helps. This year I began to wonder: Why is it necessary to make donations to our public schools as though they are charities? Why don’t our teachers already have everything they need for their classrooms and their students?
The reason is that public education in our state is chronically underfunded. According to a recent National Educators’ Association report, North Carolina ranks 37th in the country for teacher salary and 39th in terms of spending per student. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that the average teacher salary in the United States is $60,483 per year, but North Carolina’s teachers earn $50,861, $10,000 less than the national average. This amount represents a 12 percent decrease over the past 20 years.
Meanwhile, the state budget for items like teacher assistants, textbooks and instructional supplies remains below where it was prior to the 2008 recession. Adding insult to injury, in 2013 lawmakers in Raleigh eliminated bonus pay for teachers who obtain advanced degrees. These numbers add up to real trouble for public education in North Carolina.
For years, our schools have struggled with teacher retention and attrition, particularly in rural areas. For the 2017-2018 school year the state’s overall teacher attrition rate was 8 percent. For beginning teachers, which includes those with fewer than three years of experience, the rate was 12 percent.
Much of this turnover is the result of job dissatisfaction. Think of job dissatisfaction as a euphemism for “my paycheck is too low.” If the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction cannot retain these beginning teachers, it will be unable to build a sustainable workforce of experienced educators in the coming years.
Low salaries and underfunded classrooms don’t just impact current teachers. University teaching programs have also been negatively impacted. Fewer college students in North Carolina are choosing to become teachers.
The University of North Carolina system reported a 30 percent decrease in enrollment in education programs from 2010-2016. It is not difficult to understand why. According to the Economic Policy Institute, teachers graduating from education programs in North Carolina can expect to earn 35 percent less than the average college graduate. Let that sink in. While many who go into teaching think of it as a calling, rather than just a job, they still need to pay their mortgages and buy groceries.
Despite these disadvantages, many individuals still pursue a career in education. Unfortunately they cannot expect to receive a high level of public regard. According to a Washington Post article, U.S. teachers are not well-respected compared to their international peers. The 2018 Global Teacher Status Index ranked the United States 16th out of 35 countries in terms of public respect for teachers.
Where does this lack of respect come from? Let me enlighten you: Teachers in the United States are overwhelmingly female. In the 2015-2016 school year, women comprised 77 percent of the teaching population. In primary schools, nine out of 10 teachers are women. (Shout-out to Mr. Ribet at Southern Pines Primary School!)
In the first half of the 19th century, local government officials realized that they could pay women, especially young, unmarried women, a fraction of what men earned to teach the nation’s children. What a deal!
Until just a few decades ago, women had few professional options outside of teaching. Therefore, many were willing to tolerate the low pay and lack of respect. As one former educator explained to me, “When I became a teacher in the 1970s, teaching was one of a handful of professional opportunities readily available for women. As a result, many of the ‘best and brightest’ young women went into teaching.”
Those social and economic circumstances no longer exist, so across this country — and North Carolina, in particular — we are beginning to face the consequences of disrespecting and underpaying teachers.
This problem is not going unnoticed. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has launched a new program called TeachNC to attract more teachers in the state. However, education researchers have identified pre-retirement turnover, rather than increased student enrollment or teacher retirement, as the cause of teacher shortages.
The bottom line is that North Carolina needs to focus on keeping the teachers it has in the classroom, mainly by increasing pay and the levels of funding per student, rather than attracting new teachers who are likely to leave after a few years.
Right now you might be thinking, “Jessica, I’m so darn angry about this, but what can I do?” I’m glad you asked. There are several ways we can support our teachers.
First, contact your state representatives and let them know you think teachers deserve a raise. No clue who those people are? Now is a great time to learn! Find that information at the North Carolina General Assembly’s website, https://www.ncleg.gov.
Second, attend teacher rallies, like the #RedforEd events that have taken place in Raleigh for the past two years.
Finally, we need to change our collective mindset about those who work in public education. These hardworking women — and men — do not need another coffee mug filled with candy for teacher appreciation week. They need to be paid fairly for the work they do. Teachers are not volunteers. They are professionals and deserve our respect.
Jessica Wells is a Southern Pines resident and vice president of the Democratic Women of Moore County.
State Has Done Well in Paying School Teachers
BY JOHN ROWERDINK
The topic for this column is teacher pay. We agreed to write on this subject some time ago. For those of you who recently asked me to write about the impeachment process in Congress, be patient. That topic will be pretty hard to ignore in the days ahead.
Some key points first: Teachers are important, and I think they should be paid at a level that allows us to attract and retain highly qualified people into the profession. Nearly everyone in my family is a teacher (some now retired), and I was trained to be a teacher myself. In college, I majored in English and speech, student-taught in high school during my senior year, and planned to be a teacher.
I made a different career choice prior to graduation, and I’m glad I did. But I have the greatest respect for teachers and see the profession as one of the most important ones in our society.
In North Carolina, some policies regarding teacher pay are made by politicians, so it’s inevitable that it would become political. Since Republicans gained control of the General Assembly in 2010, Democrats have been critical of teacher pay levels in North Carolina.
When Republicans won a majority in both houses, it was the first time since 1896. So if NC teacher pay lagged other states prior to 2010, blame the Democrats. Since 2010, the Republicans have made tremendous progress in catching up. Here’s a small sampling of the evidence:
■ The average percentage pay increase for NC teachers since 2013 has been 19 percent ($8,600).
■ There are 92,325 public school teachers in North Carolina. Nearly half of them received increases between $10,200 and $15,330 since 2014.
■ North Carolina ranked No. 1 in the U.S. for fastest rising teacher pay in 2017, following five consecutive pay increases.
■ The state budget for 2019-2020 includes nearly $350 million for additional compensation for teachers and school employees. Gov. Cooper vetoed that budget, and NC House Republicans recently overrode his veto. Senate Republicans are trying to do the same. Meanwhile, students and teachers have returned to school without a final budget.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t do more to ensure that teachers are properly compensated. But it’s important to note the progress that has been made since Republicans assumed the majority in the state legislature in 2010.
How does teacher pay in Moore County compare to employee pay in the private sector? Average annual pay for private-sector workers in Moore County is $39,360. Average Moore County teacher pay is $53,119, including the state base plus local supplements.
Including the value of benefit plans, the average Moore County teacher pay is $73,305. This is an average, so the most highly paid teachers are paid a lot more. The value of teacher benefit plans is equal to 38 percent of their pay, significantly more than private sector workers. Also, private sector workers typically work the full year, while teachers do not.
Nationally, the average private sector employee receives $1.78 for retirement benefits per hour of work, while public school teachers receive more than three times as much ($6.22). In recent years, the average cost of teacher benefit plans increased 50 percent and many cities, states and counties are finding it difficult to pay for them.
The subject of teacher compensation raises the question of whether teachers should be allowed to strike to achieve higher pay. We’ve recently seen teacher strikes in several states, and a strike is currently being threatened by Chicago teachers. My answer to this is “no.” Teacher strikes harm the kids.
This also raises the question of whether teachers should belong to a union. I’m opposed to public sector employees belonging to a union because, unlike private sector employees, they have the ability through political activism to influence who is on the other side of the bargaining table. Private sector employees can’t do that.
And if they are allowed to unionize, union membership shouldn’t be mandatory. After Wisconsin passed its labor reform laws a few years ago, membership in the Wisconsin teachers’ union dropped 64 percent. If public employees don’t want to belong to a union, they shouldn’t be forced to join.
Should teacher pay, at least in part, be based on performance? Of course it should. If teachers want to be paid on par with employees in other occupations, their performance should be measured. If the kids aren’t learning, why should teachers be paid more? I’ve had lots of experience with this subject, and I guarantee you it works.
My conclusion is that teachers should be well paid, on par with private sector employees with similar responsibility and education requirements. Tremendous progress has been made by North Carolina Republicans in recent years. Are teachers currently underpaid? Based on my research, I don’t think so.
John Rowerdink, a Pinehurst resident, is the former chairman of the Moore County Republican Party and president of the Moore County Republican Men’s Club.