In his speech at a Catawba County event Thursday, Governor Pat McCrory used education changes under his leadership as an example of the four-year transformation he says North Carolina has made.
McCrory spoke to a room full of local and county government officials at Rock Barn Country Club and Spa to ask for support in November. The dinner was called “‘Peelin’, Eatin’, and Politickin’,” and was sponsored by the Catawba County Chamber of Commerce and the Catawba County Democratic and Republican parties.
The crowd seemed receptive to McCrory’s narrative that North Carolina has grown from having a broken economy and undervalued educational system to becoming a strong competitor in business and education. Applause especially followed his claims of defending North Carolina values despite criticism from outsiders.
“Four years ago, this state needed some major change,” McCrory said. “You know when a change agent comes into business, they have to step on some toes because you haven’t got much time.”
When it comes to education, McCrory described what he saw when he arrived in office in 2012.
“We had not been given teacher pay raises in four years, and teachers were stuck at a very low salary,” he said. “We had gone from 17th in the nation in pay for teachers to 48th in the nation when I came into office.”
McCrory noted that under his tenure, entry-level pay for teachers went from $30,000 to $35,000.
“That’s still not enough, but that’s a pretty big increase when, at the time, no one was getting pay increases,” McCrory said.
He went on to mention more recent teacher pay raises — like the average 4.7 percent increase from the state’s most recent budget. According to the 2016-17 state budget, the average teacher salary is expected to rise to over $50,000 this fiscal year.
“We’ve given the largest pay raises in the United States of America during the last two years. Because our teachers deserve it,” McCrory said.
McCrory said the fact that “30 percent less college graduates” are interested in teaching is unacceptable. That number comes from research from the UNC Teacher Quality Dashboard that shows a sharp decline in enrollment at education programs in the University of North Carolina system. There has been about a 30 percent decrease in the number of students enrolled from 2010 (23,641 students) to 2015 (16,527 students).
He said he hoped teacher pay raises would be an incentive to change those numbers.
McCrory continued with the theme of education as he talked about the outdated facilities he visited at universities and community colleges around the state when he first became governor.
“They were 20th-century facilities when we’re supposed to be teaching for the 21st century.” He said he has focused on improving the schools where students who are training to fill gaps in the state’s economy are learning. That was possible, McCrory said, through the Connect NC bond that voters approved in March.
“No football stadiums, no swimming pools, no student centers,” McCrory said.
“We’re building truck driving schools because we have a shortage of truck drivers. We’re building welding facilities. We’re building facilities for electricians, and mechanics, and engineers, and nurses. It’s a strategy to prepare this state for the next generation.”