RALEIGH (April 11, 2023) – Business leaders delivered a twofold message to state politicians Tuesday: North Carolina must expand its Pre-K program to build reading skills by 3rd grade. But we can’t do that unless we first solve the state’s teacher shortage.
“It’s essential to the children of North Carolina, to North Carolina businesses and to the resilience of the state’s economy,” said SAS Institute CEO Jim Goodnight.
New employers coming to the state expect an educated workforce, Goodnight said. And even STEM fields such as software development, network systems, logistics, supply-chain management, robotics and artificial intelligence require a firm grounding in literacy.
Gaps in early childhood literacy worsened during the Covid pandemic. Only 32% of North Carolina 4th-graders overall read proficiently, and only 21% of Hispanic and 17% of Black 4th-graders do, said Darius Adamczyk, Chairman and CEO of Honeywell.
Students who can read by 3rd grade are three times as likely to graduate from high school and go on to college, Adamczyk said, while those who can’t are four times more likely to drop out of school.
After legislative action last year, he said, thousands of NC teachers are now being trained in the research-based science of reading.
BUT THERE ARE CHALLENGES – vacancies – at the head of the class.
“We must have effective teachers equipped with a firm understanding of how young children learn to read, and we need those teachers in every classroom,” said Huntley Garriott, President of Wilmington-based Live Oak Bank.
“Having those teachers in every classroom is going to be difficult because we have a very real teacher shortage.”
Even 40 days into this school year, the state did not have certified teachers in more than 5,000 classrooms – an increase of 58% over last year, Garriott said. And enrollment in the state’s colleges of education dropped by 24% from 2021 to 2022.
“It doesn’t bode well for teachers seeking to improve reading,” he said.
With the effects of inflation, said retired Curi CEO Dale Jenkins, “Companies across the country are increasing employee pay, and they’re instituting changes to make working for their company as attractive as possible. We need to do the same thing for teachers.”
The CEOs called for the state to raise teacher pay by “a meaningful amount.” Asked how big a raise he thinks teachers should receive, Goodnight replied, “I think, certainly, whatever the current inflation rate is – at least 5% would be a good raise. I would prefer more like a 10% raise for our teachers.”
“I think we’d all agree we want to see our teachers paid more,” he said.
Last month, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper proposed raises for K-12 teachers of 18% over the next two years. But the 2023-25 budget proposal approved by the state House last week provided raises of 10.2% over two years. The NC Senate will offer its budget proposal next.1
Jenkins said teacher pay in North Carolina is simply not competitive with its neighbors.
According to BEST NC, North Carolina ranked 6th out of 13 Southeastern states in average teacher pay in 2021-22 after adjustments for cost of living. And its starting teacher pay of $39,695 in 2020-21 ranked it next to last – above only West Virginia – among Southeastern states.2
Starting teacher pay in North Carolina ranks behind even Alabama and Mississippi, which increased starting pay by 21% and 10%, respectively, last year, Jenkins said. And Tennessee and Arkansas have announced plans to raise starting teacher pay to $50,000.
THE CEO GROUP has pushed for six years to expand NC Pre-K, the state’s preschool program that aims specifically to help 4-year-olds.
Trey Rabon, President of AT&T North Carolina, noted that NC Pre-K is one of the highest-quality preschool programs in the country.
Researchers at Duke University found the program contributes to readiness in both reading and math, it reduces chances a student will be placed in special education or held back, and those benefits last at least through 8th grade.
The CEOs want to see at least 75% of eligible children in every county served by NC Pre-K – but Rabon noted that only a quarter of the state’s counties have reached that level, and many providers closed their doors during the pandemic.
Jim Hansen, Regional President of PNC Financial Services, agreed that the state lost most of its gains during the pandemic. State legislators approved more funds for Pre-K providers last year and enrollment is now increasing, he said, but NC Pre-K enrollment is below target in 60 of the state’s 100 counties.
Child-care centers face increasing costs for rent, labor and food, Hansen said.
“These providers are struggling to stay open as they continue to combat inflation and labor pressure,” he said. He added that teachers in private pre-schools often make close to the minimum wage.
The CEOs want state legislators to keep increasing support for NC Pre-K providers and add automatic adjustments for inflation to the state’s support.
“We need to avoid playing catch-up in the future,” said Hansen.
2 https://www.bestnc.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/BEST-NC-Teacher-Pay-Report.pdf, p. 21.
Davonna Thomas says
NC DPI needs to come up with more flexible options for lateral entry. I have a master’s degree in English and a PhD in literacy (with a concentration in reading disabilities) and have taught at an NC community college for 9 years. I have run professional development sessions for NC K-12 teachers that earned them CEUs, yet–because I went straight into higher education–I can only teach K-12 in NC if I pursue the residency license track. I’d love to teach or be a literacy coach at a local school, but not if it means paying more tuition to take courses I don’t need AND taking a significant pay cut.
Raghuvir Gelot says
How can a foreign trained teacher apply for teachers job to alleviate shortage?