It’s getting complicated up in here

If lawmakers couldn’t make things complicated, they’d be out of work. Naturally, figuring out how to be responsive to poll numbers and find more money for teacher pay in a two-year budget that last year ignored teachers isn’t going to be easy. The governor’s plan for raising starting pay for teachers and getting experienced teachers, on average, a 2 percent increase requires some shifting around. No matter what, someone’s ox is going to get gored, and ox protection is as much of what goes on in the General Assembly as obfuscation.
But theĀ legislature’s first response to the governor’s effort to raise teacher pay — other than some general harrumphing over the budget plan — is to force another mandate on public school districts. No school superintendent in the state would dispute the wisdom that teachers are a district’s most valuable asset, but to require a district to allot 51 percent of its budget to teacher pay makes air-headed use of an obvious fact. It’s too typical of legislation concerning matters of public education — simplistic, symbolic and completely beside the point.
On average, districts commit 47 percent of resources to pay, according to The State story, but finding another 4 percent to meet the mandate would require raiding other budget buckets that are hardly overflowing. LCPS, for instance, needs to spend about $1.2 million next year to get our 1:1 technology initiative off the ground in elementary schools, and the senior staff has come up with a plan for paying that bill; but it will mean the system will make do with less in some other areas. Piling on another spending mandate would threaten such local priorities and would certainly limit flexibility for a public school district at the very time when Republican legislators praise flexibility as the chief virtue of charter and private schools.
You don’t have to be Newstradamus to see that education will be a hot topic in the current session of the General Assembly. It needs to be, but it needs to be approached in a more thoughtful manner. Our prediction is this: the deeper we get into this session, the better Pat McCrory’s teacher pay plan will look.