Thursday, October 9, 2014

Gov. Jim Hunt pumps up the faithful

Former Gov. Jim Hunt, North Carolina's most noted champion of public education, threw some red meat to a crowd of advocates in Charlotte this morning.

Hunt raised N.C. teacher pay from the dumps to the national average during the last of his four terms in office. So he has the credentials to talk about the state's current embarrassment on teacher pay. He gave a nod to the teacher pay raise the legislature approved this summer but pointed out that "Veteran teachers who have spent their whole life teaching our children, they received a mere pittance and lost their longevity pay."

N.C. teacher pay is below that of South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and Virginia, Hunt told the MeckEd breakfast crowd. He told the story of a friend whose daughter could take a job as a first-year teacher in South Carolina paying $41,000 -- the same amount she would make after teaching in North Carolina for 15 years.

North Carolina's low pay is driving teachers out of the profession, Hunt said. The number leaving the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has nearly doubled over the past four years, he said, and enrollment in UNC schools of education has plummeted.

"Where will our future teachers come from?" Hunt asked. "Will we have enough good teachers?"

Hunt laid out Charlotte-Mecklenburg's proud history on education -- from leading the way on desegregation to helping create public school kindergarten in North Carolina -- and said education leaders need to build on that now.

He urged the community to support the quarter-cent sales tax referendum on this fall's ballot.

"You can be the best school district in America if you work at it," Hunt said.

-- Taylor Batten