McCrory should be ready to fight for teacher raises

It’s possible that Gov. Pat McCrory’s new teacher pay plan, which he unveiled last week, was meant as a shiny object to distract people from the disaster of HB2. If so, it didn’t work — McCrory’s education announcement got scant attention in a week dominated by other news.

That’s too bad, because the governor offered some promising proposals. He called for a 5 percent raise that he says would bring average teacher pay above $50,000. That would still place North Carolina in the bottom half of the country in average teacher salary, but it’s a healthy move toward the middle.

McCrory also proposed bonuses for teachers, including a substantial $5,000 for teachers with 25 or more years’ experience. Those veteran educators were snubbed in the last round of pay raises.

The governor didn’t release details on how the raises would be applied, so for now his proposals are just outlines. And, as McCrory knows, the next step is the hardest — selling his ideas to a legislature that doesn’t give great weight to the man in the governor’s mansion.

In fact, we’ve been in this place before with teacher pay. Two years ago, McCrory announced some similarly promising pay raises for teachers, but the salaries he eventually signed off on were disappointing and did little to slow an exodus of educators that the state needs to attend to.

To that end, the governor should take a different approach this time. Here’s how:

Make the conversation about teachers, not politics: Yes, people know that N.C.’s teacher pay ranking went down under the previous governor — a Democrat, as McCrory likes to point out. People also know that it happened during a recession, when a lot of things were cut and frozen, including public employee pay.

What matters now is that the state faces a crisis with teachers, and the governor does them a disservice by pointing at Bev Perdue and giving lawmakers an artificially low bar to get over. McCrory has a better case to make: The state badly needs to retain its teachers and encourage young educators to choose North Carolina. Small, incremental bumps in pay won’t get that done.

Look to another governor: As we’ve said in this space before, there’s already a fine example McCrory can follow. Two decades ago, with teacher salaries lagging in North Carolina, Gov. Jim Hunt set a simple goal of reaching the national average in four years.

It was a simple, attainable goal that lawmakers (and yes, voters) could get behind. Instead of offering individual proposals that lawmakers can swat away, the governor should give the state a goal that’s easier to rally around and remember — and therefore harder to dismiss.

Don’t be afraid to lose: Two years ago, the governor didn’t make much of a fuss when Republican lawmakers crumpled up his teacher pay proposals and sent him a lesser version that could hardly be called a compromise. That’s part of an unfortunate pattern in which McCrory makes a proposal or a promise, only to back down when the lawmakers think differently. In the end, the governor gets little credit for the initial thought, just scorn for his unwillingness to stand up for it.

If the governor believes teachers deserve a solid pay raise, he should make that case loud and often. It’s not a bad election year battle to wage, but it’s also one our teachers, and our state’s classrooms, need him to fight.

The Charlotte Observer

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