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North Carolina educators say they doubt the new teacher pay proposal will fix vacancies

NCAE Facebook live video

The North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) is opposing a state plan to change how teachers are licensed and paid. Representatives for the teachers' association held a press conference Tuesday saying the plan might worsen, rather than alleviate, a growing teacher shortage.

“The most talented and knowledgeable teachers that I know are looking at this plan and wondering if they'll stay if it goes into effect,” said Kiana Espinoza, an eighth grade teacher in Wake County Schools.

The proposal discussed by the North Carolina Board of Education last week would get rid of the annual raises teachers currently receive for experience during the first 15 years of their careers. Instead, it would establish pay on factors like student growth on state tests, and evaluations of teachers by students and administrators.

A key aspect of the plan would create advanced teaching roles that give teachers the opportunity to earn a higher salary by being hired to mentor other educators. That model has been piloted in some North Carolina counties. The proposal suggests a higher teacher starting salary of $45,000 — compared to the state's current starting base salary of $37,000 —and a salary for advanced roles that is higher than the top of the current state pay scale.

The proposal would have to be drafted into a bill and passed in the North Carolina General Assembly to become a reality, which State Superintendent Catherine Truitt says may take years.

At last week's board meeting, Truitt and Board Chair Eric Davis promoted this new licensure and pay plan as a solution to growing teacher vacancies.

“Our state is in a teaching crisis that's having a significant negative impact on today's students, and if not corrected, will damage our state for generations to come,” Davis said.

He said each month the Board of Education hears of cases in which effective teachers struggle to obtain or renew their licenses. The current licensure process is based heavily on teacher candidates passing standardized content exams and experienced teachers completing professional development credits.

“Licensure is the key leverage point because it impacts nearly every aspect of our teachers' career — their preparation, their development, their advancement, their reward. And, yes, their compensation,” Davis said.

But NCAE says the proposal under discussion is not the best way to address teacher compensation.

NCAE says the state should stick to policies that worked in the past

“We don't need radical reinvention of the wheel,” said NCAE Vice President Bryan Proffitt. “We need the support and resources necessary to do what we already know works best for our kids.”

 North Carolina Association of Educators' vice president Bryan Proffitt speaks at a press conference, August 9, 2022, opposing a plan by the Department of Public Instruction that would change how teachers are licensed and paid.
NCAE Facebook live video
North Carolina Association of Educators' vice president Bryan Proffitt speaks at a press conference, August 9, 2022, opposing a plan by the Department of Public Instruction that would change how teachers are licensed and paid.

Proffitt recalled how when he became a teacher in 2004 he faced stiff competition for jobs in North Carolina, while now, he personally knows many teachers who are leaving the profession.

Proffitt said a better solution to addressing teacher shortages would be to revive policies the state legislature has rolled back in the past decade.

“The conversation that we're having right now is a distraction from the dismantling that they've been doing for the last 10 years,” Proffitt said.

He called for investing in colleges of education by expanding the NC Teaching Fellows loan forgiveness program, increasing state funding for teaching assistants, and reinstating master’s pay and experience-based raises for teachers throughout their careers. Both the NC Teaching Fellows program and teaching assistants were defunded in past state budgets and never revived to their prior funding levels.

“None of these solutions is radical, or new or difficult to understand. They've all worked right here,” Proffitt said.

“Pay educators based on experience, start every teacher in the state at a minimum of $45,000, and return to the annual experience steps and cost of living increases that have historically allowed veteran educators to stay in our classrooms with our kids,” Proffitt said.

NCAE has called the licensure plan “enigmatic” and teachers speaking at the press conference expressed their concerns.

As a teacher who works with many English language learners, Kiana Espinoza said she wonders whether teachers who serve disadvantaged students will have a harder time earning salary increases under the new plan.

“Based on the vague answers we have right now, I just don't know,” Espinoza said. “Under this proposal, would teachers be punished financially when their testing or survey data comes back skewed?”

Truitt has repeatedly stressed that advancement under the new model will not be based on student test scores alone, but teachers have expressed skepticism that any subjective measure will result in consistent pay.

Espinoza said teachers need a reliable salary rather than facing potential swings in pay due to an unusual year of testing or evaluations by students or principals.

Other teachers said they worry the new pay plan would not keep pace with inflation because teachers would only be eligible for significant raises every five years when they renew their license.

Promoters of the plan have suggested a 1.5% annual raise for teachers in between renewal periods, which is less than the current annual step increases teachers receive in their first 15 years in the classroom.

“This plan will put teachers like me on a fixed income well before I am retired,” said forth grade teacher Daria Fedrick of Harnett County Schools. “The plan flattens pay as early as year four, which is even worse than the current scale, which begins to flatten at year 16.”

“That's not a plan that will plug our pipeline,” Fedrick said.

Some speakers at NCAE’s press conference also called for full funding for the Leandro plan, a school funding plan at the center of a court case that the North Carolina Supreme Court will hear later this month. That funding plan calls for an infusion of $5.6 billion in state funding to support public education spanning across early childhood education, K-12 programs, and teacher recruitment and support.

Copyright 2022 North Carolina Public Radio. To see more, visit North Carolina Public Radio.

Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Policy Reporter, a fellowship position supported by the A.J. Fletcher Foundation. She has an M.A. from the UNC Chapel Hill School of Media & Journalism and a B.A. in history and anthropology from Indiana University.