Teachers get no respect from state lawmakers

Published 1:21 pm Thursday, January 4, 2024

Teachers and school administrators can’t say it, but I can. What has happened to public school teachers in North Carolina is shameful.

Legislative leadership in Raleigh has tamped down teacher pay, and our teachers are lagging further and further behind. That makes recruiting teachers to fill the growing number of vacancies difficult, in some cases impossible.

The starting salary for a North Carolina teacher is between $38,000 and $43,000, but the pay varies around the state. On the national level, the average teacher salary for the 2022-23 school year is $68,400, but when adjusted for inflation teachers on average are making less than they did 10 years ago.

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North Carolina ranks 46th for beginning teacher pay.

With a ranking like that, it is not surprising that the state is having trouble attracting teachers in general much less luring the best teachers to come to the classrooms and assume one of the most difficult, yet important, jobs in government.

The paymaster for teachers is the General Assembly which creates the state budget. Folks all over the state elect their representatives to participate in that budget process, so even though the man you voted for might not be serving on the budgeting committee, he does have a vote in the House or the Senate. He does have a voice, although it might be little more than a squeaky sounding one.

I spent a few years of my career stationed at a state Capitol as a reporter covering the state legislature. The experience was revealing, disappointing, frustrating and mind-boggling. Sometimes all of that in one day, and it made the old adage seem true–that watching laws being made is like watching sausage being made.

That is one reason I groan when I see pictures in the news showing the highest-ranking lawmakers in the state have come down from the mountaintop in Raleigh, gathered local elected officials around them and held up one of those gigantic phony checks like they do at a fishing tournament, saying “look what we have done for you. We have given you all of this money.”

And the local representatives smile for the cameras, knowing full well that they saw the sausage being made and they know that for a state that nationally is ranked 7 in job growth, 14 in economy and 22 in employment, the tax dollars are rolling into the state but are not rolling downhill to the poorest counties, leaving the teachers in 46th place.

This week a state report confirmed what school officials already know: budget cuts have resulted in our schools not meeting national standards for addressing students’ mental health by providing adequate numbers of counselors, nurses, psychologists and social workers.

Why, we wonder, are only crumbs being raked off the table and into the schools?

None of us gets to vote on the state budget. We don’t really have a voice other than at the ballot box for our representatives in the House and Senate.

Some folks get old and feel the teacher pay issue is no longer important to them. They think they don’t have a dog in that fight, but they do if they care about their local community and how it will fare in 18 years when those kids are graduating.

The time has come for citizens to stop accepting excuses from their locally elected legislators who wring their hands and point their fingers toward Raleigh. If they care about our local future, they will fight for our local teachers. If they don’t fight for us, it’s time for voters to stop putting an X next to their names on the ballot.

Larry McDermott is a local retired farmer/journalist. Reach him at hardscrabblehollow@gmail.com