NC’s Teacher Pipeline is Drying Up

Restoring Retirement Health Benefits Can Help

My sixth-grade daughter recently commented that every teacher she had in elementary school was no longer at her school. When I thought back on the amazing educators she had, it struck me that she was right. All six teachers were no longer working at her old elementary school. Some had retired, but most had left the teaching profession to work in other careers. As a parent, I’m sad because I miss seeing these teachers as the friends and wonderful people that they all are. But as a legislator, I’m angry. When our public school system loses teachers at this rate, we should realize that something is desperately wrong.

Between 2015 and 2017, the State of North Carolina saw an increase in the number of teachers who reported leaving the public education system to work in other careers. Most of these former teachers are pursuing employment in healthcare, administrative services or retail. In order to make up for the number of educators leaving the profession, North Carolina must prioritize recruiting quality teachers to fill our classrooms. Unfortunately, the UNC System’s Colleges of Education have also seen a dramatic decline in enrollment over the last several years. At least one of the reasons for this declining enrollment is the elimination of retiree medical benefits for newly hired teachers after January 1, 2021.

For many educators, the promise of retirement benefits is one of the reasons to put up with the low pay that comes with being a teacher. But, over the past few years, the NCGA has made a number of cuts including eliminating health insurance for state retirees. Our state benefits package for educators needs to be able to compete with the private sector if we’re going to attract and retain professionals who want to teach in our public schools. That’s why I introduced House Bill 790 in the NC General Assembly, which would restore these benefits and bring back our state’s competitive benefits and retirement package.

North Carolina’s student population is growing by 20,000 students a year. To respond to the challenge of educating more students, we need to focus on hiring and retaining teachers. Our education system won’t succeed if we keep cutting benefits. In Wake County, where I live and represent the 36th District, the public school system is the largest employer in the county. If our school system cannot compete with private industry and the large corporations that call our area home by offering a competitive benefits package, we will lose the opportunity to attract the best and brightest to educate our children.

A competitive retirement package also incentivizes teachers to stay in the profession. Turnover in the classroom and in schools can impact student performance. Rather, we should be implementing policy and making budget decisions that promote stability. The experience and wisdom that comes with decades in the classroom help veteran educators act as mentors to their younger colleagues. These relationships help new educators achieve their full potential and build the learning environment that our students deserve.

The Learning Policy Institute recently ranked states according to key factors that influence teacher supply and attrition. Based on the data, the organization assigned a “teaching attractiveness rating,” indicating how supportive the state appears to be of teacher recruitment and retention. On a 1 to 5 scale with 1 being the least desirable, North Carolina was assigned a 2.18 for teacher attractiveness, down from 2.67 in 2016. Our state used to be a leader in education. If we don’t make changes now by attracting men and women to the teaching profession by offering them the same benefits they would receive in other professions, North Carolina’s supply of teachers will continue to dwindle. My daughter’s elementary school will continue to lose teachers and have difficulty filling positions. And that’s hurting the next generation of children who depend on us to find the next generation of teachers.

Teachers don’t enter the teaching profession to get rich. They become teachers because they have a heart for children and a passion for education. Let’s bring back retiree health benefits for newly hired teachers in North Carolina so those passionate individuals can enter the profession and remain there, where they belong.

Representative for NC House District 36

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