NCAE, NC Democrat leaders, doubt Republicans campaign claims on teacher pay

The North State Journal—The North State Journal
N.C. Association of Educators President Mark Jewell speaks during a press conference about teacher pay on Wednesday

RALEIGH — The North Carolina Association of Educators, along with leading Democrat legislators, held a press conference Wednesday n response to re-election campaign claims by Gov. Pat McCrory and the legislature’s Republican majority that average teacher pay across the state has eclipsed $50,000 for the first time.President of the NCAE, Mark Jewell, called the Republican teacher pay claim into question, saying, “If you really want to know the truth about what’s really going on in N.C., you need to ask an educator.”Jewell said the number was not accurate because it didn’t account for teacher turnover from year to year and explained that remaining teachers have more students and out-of-pocket expenses, despite recent pay increases.”Have appropriations for public schools increased?,” asked Jewell rhetorically. “Yes, but what [the governor] is not telling you is that there have been tens of thousands of more students. We have 4,900 fewer teachers with 35,000 more students.”Jewell also criticized Republicans for not doing more to increase teacher salaries while the state legislature is “currently sitting on a $1.5 billion rainy day fund.”The House minority leader, Rep. Larry Hall (D-Durham), told the press he hopes folks look at these numbers for themselves to get a clear picture.”This whole idea of $50,000-a-year pay level for teachers, that that’s gonna be the average for North Carolina, is certainly a misrepresentation of what we have happening,” said Hall. “It’s not based on just the state.”Teacher pay is supplemented by local authorities in more than 90 of North Carolina’s 100 counties, wherein large tax base counties such as Wake may offer higher teacher pay supplements than more rural counties, such as Pasquotank, with less means to do so.Catherine L. Truitt, a former teacher and current senior education adviser to McCrory, said accounting for local supplements is the only way to measure average teacher pay and a method that has always been employed by the National Education Association.”I wish that all counties provided a supplement,” said Truitt in an interview with the North State Journal. “I think we have about eight that don’t, but again that is a decision made at the local level.”I have not seen a number from them, or any data or model that explain or prove that we are not going to be at the $50,000 average,” said Truitt in response to the NCAE press conference. “The Fiscal Research Division [of the N.C. General Assembly], which is a bipartisan group, has vetted our numbers and agreed we will be over $50,000 average teacher pay for the first time in state history.”When asked at Wednesday’s NCAE press conference what the average teacher pay in North Carolina was, if it was not the $50,000 per year level claimed by Gov. McCrory and other Republicans, Jewell did not provide a number. Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram (D-District 3) claimed the data does not back up the Republican assertion on the teacher pay milestone.”We are not spending more on education,” said Smith-Ingram. “We are continuing to cut education, and it is not fair to students in N.C. who deserve a fighting chance to have a career and a wonderful opportunity.”The Democratic state senator, representing the northeastern part of the state, cited 2007-2008 education spending levels at $9 billion while 2015-2016 spending was at $8 billion as proof that education spending has not increased.”According to Department of Public Instruction, our public schools share of general funding has decreased by 13.7 percent since 1970,” said Smith-Ingram. “The cuts don’t end there. Education supply funding has been cut in half, 50 percent, since 2008.” Gov. McCrory took office in January 2013.Truitt thinks the spending priorities of former legislatures under Democrat control, as well as reactions to the 2008 recession, are largely responsible for why the state is not further ahead in its teacher pay goals.”The reason why cuts were made in the recession is because Democrats did not have any money in the rainy-day fund,” said Truitt. “So they slashed textbook funding from $111 million to $3 million; they froze teacher pay; and we fell in the rankings from 20th to 46th under three Democratic governors, and so we have been digging out of a hole since the governor took office and we have tripled textbook funding allotment.”As far as NCAE’s assertion that current rainy-day funds should have been used to supplement teacher pay, Truitt said that is exactly the thinking that got state finances in trouble in the first place.”It’s all well and good to say that that money is just sitting there, until we have another recession and have to lay off teachers and cut textbook funding again,” said Truitt. “Then we would always be playing this game of catch up. Having that money in the rainy-day fund is the fiscally responsible thing to do.”While accusing Republicans of playing politics during an election year with respect to teacher pay, Wednesday’s NCAE statements, joined by leading Democrats, confirm that both sides are fully engaged in the 2016 campaign competition. Truitt, though, thinks the Republican’s position is stronger, saying, “From where I’m sitting, we are the ones with the data and models to back up our claims and they are not.”