North Carolina’s Republican-dominated State Senate hates teacher tenure. They hate it so much that they are willing to offer nearly $500 million in higher salaries if teachers are willing to abandon their tenure.

Bear in mind that tenure in K-12 education is not a guarantee of lifetime employment; it is a guarantee of due process rights. Also note that until recently, North Carolina was thought to have one of the best school systems in the South. The state has–or had, at last count–more National Board Certified Teachers than any other state in the nation.

Why Republicans hate tenure so passionately is a mystery. There is no reason to believe that principals are itching to fire teachers. North Carolina has had such a large exodus of teachers from the profession and the state that wise policymakers should be worried about holding on to teachers, many of whom are demoralized by years of legislative attacks on them.

Stuart Egan, a National Board Certified Teacher in North Carolina, wrote the following letter in response to this latest move by the State Senate:

“North Carolina’s GOP legislators certainly appear to have paid attention in English class: The motif of “making a deal with the devil” is a common theme in many works of fiction and in anything they write concerning teachers.

“Sen. Phil Berger is championing a bill that would create substantial pay raises for teachers who relinquish “career status” and longevity pay for “professional status.” The salaries of teachers who do not surrender career status would remain frozen in a stagnated schedule. Career status is often referred to as “tenure,” but that is a nebulous term. Career status does not mean teachers are untouchable. The General Assembly has spun this word to make it appear that teachers have the same “tenure” as college professors. Not true. We can still be dismissed for not performing our duties or upholding standards.

“The past 10 years in NC educational policy is enough to tell us where this is going. Under the ABC plan from years ago, teachers in schools that achieved certain growth expectations would get bonuses. That system ran out of money several years before it ended, but the requirements for teachers did not change. The monetary “incentive” simply was taken away.

“When the state budget began experiencing shortfalls, teacher salaries were frozen. Many of us are making the same salary we did years ago, but now we have more students and more classes as well as increases in the cost of living. Consequently, North Carolina has lost many of its best, brightest and potential career educators. Between a lack of financial security and the near-constant disdain in which legislators hold us, there is little reason to stay.

“When the General Assembly tried a few weeks ago to lure teachers into giving up their career status early in exchange for a monetary incentive, the courts struck it down as unconstitutional. But what many in the general public may not know is that the state did not have the funds to finance that incentive past the first year. It would have had to remove the monetary incentive three years early.

“This is exactly what will happen in the proposed legislation introduced this past week. The General Assembly already faces a shortfall for next year, and the salary increase for those who give up their right to due process will be removed because the money does not exist.

“To look at this latest deal another way, it would cause North Carolinians to lose advocates for the public school system. In a time when the state budget siphons off money for a voucher program to promote privatized education and decreases the average amount of money spent per pupil, you need to have teachers speak up for students and schools. Removing the right to due process leads to those same teachers being afraid to do so for fear of reprisal.

“Whether you call it career status or tenure, the concept helps keep public education in the hands of the public. It is so valuable to public schools that Sen. Berger and others are willing to pay more than $400 million to take it away. North Carolinians should take note and wonder why our legislators want teachers hamstrung by either low pay or worry about keeping a job more than they want our students to receive the best education possible to prepare them – and North Carolina – for a modern and innovative job market.

“This teacher will not sell his soul, no matter how attractive the devil tries to make the package. There is too much at stake – for teachers, for students and for North Carolina’s future.”

Stuart Egan, NBCT
West Forsyth High School
English Teacher, Career Status

After Stuart sent the letter above, he added this sad postscript:

Concerning the high teacher salary raises in NC tied to tenure forfeiture, I saw this in my local paper (Winston-Salem Journal) after I sent my previous letter. It seems that to fund these raises, Senator Berger pushed through a budget that “would cut financing for teacher assistants, classrooms teachers, administration and transportation to pay for teacher raises.” Therefore, the county school system would have to request from the county that loss of money to cover the positions lost. But the county commissioners cut the local school budget already. The result would be “the loss of more than 250 early grade teacher assistants and 28 classroom teachers, according to preliminary estimates from the district’s finance department.” That is devastating to the K-3, elementary level.

I have a child with special needs in kindergarten who happens to have Downs Syndrome. If his teacher does not have an assistant, then positive results will not be seen as quickly and effectively in his education. Interestingly enough, if I as a high school teacher (or his regular teacher in elementary school) take the salary increase and make a “deal with the devil,” I may have a direct impact on my own son’s education.

Public education should never be this cruelly ironic.

If this is happening in a place like Winston-Salem, imagine the effect on rural counties in North Carolina.