Years of lackluster teacher pay increases by state Republicans, inadequate school funding and the erasure of tenure, and pipeline initiatives such as the Teaching Fellows program have impacted North Carolina’s educator population.
The actions by state Republicans to rip schools of quality, well-resourced educators have resulted in some local school districts crafting their own measures in order to retain teachers and attract others to fill vacancies.
School systems, such as Wake County, are using their local education funds, to restore benefits cut by state Republicans, re-implementing a pay boost to teachers and other staff with advanced degrees, which was originally eliminated in 2013. In low-wealth school districts, these measures are far and few, as many do not have the resources.
According to the state Department of Public Instruction, classroom vacancies have increased by more than 50 percent, with rural school districts seeing severe numbers. Most notably, two rural school systems, Halifax and Hoke County schools, reported teacher vacancies at nearly 25 percent.
Despite low-wealth districts taxing themselves at higher rates than wealthier counties, these districts are unable to generate comparable tax revenue to wealthier counties that make a less taxing effort, according to a study released by the Public School Forum of North Carolina.
“The ten poorest districts taxed themselves at 1.6 times the average tax rate of the ten wealthiest counties in 2020-21. Residents living in lower wealth districts face a substantially greater financial burden to support public education, while still finding that their schools are more poorly resourced than those in wealthier counties.”
Measures, such as The Leandro Remedial Plan, would tackle these long-standing unmet needs, as the plan is a blueprint for the state to address its failure to ensure children across the state receive their constitutional right to a sound, basic education.
The plan lays out where adequate investments must be made, particularly in low-wealth and rural school districts, and would improve access to educational programs and services, increasing access to early learning opportunities and special education resources, as well as supports child care subsidies, and salary supplement programs for early educators.
State Democrats, educators, parents, advocates, and education experts have strongly advocated for the passage of the Leandro Plan however, state Republicans have refused to fully fund the measure, which would help address the state’s ever-growing teaching shortages. Governor Roy Cooper has long advocated for The Leandro Plan as well; featuring pay increases in past proposed state budgets, including an 18% pay increase for educators in his latest proposal.
In recent developments, the conservative majority state Supreme Court voted 5-2 to reinstate a lower court’s order blocking former Superior Court David Lee’s ruling in November, which ordered the state to fund the school equity plan.
“If our Court cannot or will not enforce state constitutional rights, those rights do not exist, the constitution is not worth the paper it is written on, and our oath as judicial officers to uphold the constitution is a meaningless charade,” Associate Justice Anita Earls wrote in a dissent.
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