Teachers working on master's degrees hope to get pay increases

Sep. 14, 2013 @ 07:08 AM

Getting a master’s degree was always part of the plan for Bethany McRary, a first-grade teacher at Hudson Elementary School.

McRary enrolled in the master’s of library science program at Appalachian State University in January 2012 to improve her teaching skills, she said, whether she decided to stay in the classroom or become a school librarian.

But another factor played into McRary’s decision: the modest raises North Carolina teachers have traditionally received after completing advanced degrees. Six years into her career, McRary was still making the same salary as a first-year teacher.  

Late this summer, though, McRary found out she wouldn’t be receiving a raise when she completed her degree. The state budget approved in July eliminated pay raises for teachers who finished their degrees later than April 1, 2014.

McRary was scheduled to finish her degree in May 2014, the usual end of the spring semester.

Now, though, McRary and other teachers already enrolled in advanced-degree programs may receive their raises. But for many of them, that is dependent on action next spring on the part of the General Assembly.

Gov. Pat McCrory announced Sept. 4 he had found $10 million in the state budget to cover pay increases for all teachers already working on advanced degrees. McCrory wants to do two things: Extend the deadline for advanced-degree pay from April to May 2014, so people like McRary don't have to speed up their work to try to finish in the middle of the semester; and provide $10 million in the budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year to provide the raises to all of the other teachers who are currently enrolled in master's degree programs but will not complete the program until after May. 

State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey has said his board could adopt the deadline extension from April to May, but only the legislature could extend the raises to all of the teachers currently working on master's degrees. 

The master's-degree pay increase is not a large one. For a teacher with one to five years of experience, it comes to $3,080, pushing the base annual pay from $30,800 to $33,880. For teachers with more than 36 years on the job, the level at which pay raises for experience are capped, it would be $5,320, for base annual pay of $58,500.

Caldwell County superintendent Steve Stone, who has called the loss of advanced-degree pay a “slap in the face” for educators, said McCrory’s reversal was a “bold move.”

“I believe it signals his understanding that our teachers are hard-working and for those who choose to continue their education, that they will be rewarded for the additional skills they acquire to work in the classroom with children,” he said. “Our governor has taken the stand that continuous education is a value appreciated by the state.”

McRary said she didn’t choose education as a career to make money, but she needs the master's-degree raise to make ends meet. When news of the state budget and April 1 deadline rolled in, McRary said she felt “physically sick.”

“As a teacher, it seems almost silly,” she said. “I want to teach my students to value the importance of education, that knowledge is power and to instill a sense of accomplishment for doing something that will hopefully better their futures – all while I, as their teacher, am struggling with understanding why my state does not value those same aspects as me.”

In the same press release that announced the partial restoration of master’s degree pay, McCrory also announced an executive order that created the Governor’s Teacher Advisory Council, which he says “will give a voice to a diverse group of teachers from across the state.”

The governor also echoed his support for a new pay schedule for teachers. McCrory has called the current compensation system “archaic,” but has not yet proposed any specific changes to the system.