Commentary by JB Buxton, Founder and Principal, Education Innovations Group; and Think NC First Advisory Board Member

North Carolinians know the importance of a good teacher in the classroom. It has long been a North Carolina value that teachers are critical components in a system of public education that is inextricably intertwined with our economic prosperity and quality of life. This has perhaps never been more evident than the significant public support for increasing teacher salaries in the past legislative session. Going into the session, it appeared possible that the governor and legislature would come together on a plan to increase salaries and supports for educators badly in need of both.   

It didn’t happen. What resulted was a political response. What the times demand is a leadership response.

After years of stagnant wages and lost ground to surrounding states, what teachers and the public deserved in the last legislative session was a clear, longer-term strategy for increasing salaries and opportunities to earn additional pay in the profession.

The plan would have made clear our longer-term salary goals, our goals for competitiveness in the southeast and across the country, and the kinds of roles and performance that deserve additional compensation. That would have been a leadership response.

Instead, what we are left with is a one-year plan with no specific goal attached, no path to regional or national competitiveness over time, no strategy for performance or additional roles. It’s unclear why some teachers with certain years of experience were rewarded with major increases and others received little. Further, the new salary schedule anticipates increases just once every five years. In short, while the overall increase was clearly a significant step forward, the state’s approach to compensation has neither substantive rationale nor long-term vision. That’s a political response.

For five years, educators and the public have watched the state’s supports for teachers erode. In addition to stagnant salaries that have lost ground in real terms, the state has eliminated the mentor program for new teachers, professional development through the NC Teacher Academy, additional pay for master’s degrees, the NC Teaching Fellows Program to recruit high school students into teaching, and ABC performance pay for teachers for gains in student achievement.

It’s time to start building again.

The one positive aspect about the action in the recent legislative session is that it focused on building supports for teachers rather than tearing them down. It just didn’t go nearly far enough. We are stuck in our state with the Alice in Wonderland problem: if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.

It’s time to make more than an election year commitment to the profession of teaching in North Carolina and its importance to our children and our economy. It’s time to lead.