Teacher shortage fixable with a better state budget

Published 4:51 pm Tuesday, September 14, 2021

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By Diane Mitchell & Dee Grissett

Many North Carolina students are going back to school to find classrooms without qualified teachers. Because of a widespread teacher shortage, schools are filling classrooms with substitutes, teaching assistants, and unlicensed instructors.

Scroll through school district websites and you will see over a thousand vacant teaching positions even as the school year started four weeks ago. Only 30% of North Carolina students have a fully licensed math teacher. Math teachers in Robeson County are covering classes in person in one school and then jumping onto Zoom meetings to teach math remotely to students in other schools.

The U.S. Department of Education tracks Teacher Shortage Areas across states. For the 2021-22 school year, the federal government says North Carolina has a shortage of qualified teachers in all grades of math and special education and all core subjects in all elementary school grades. Many school districts are offering new teacher signing bonuses funded with federal COVID relief dollars, but the teacher shortage persists.

Behind these numbers is real harm to our children. Students are less likely to learn to read with a substitute teacher who’s not familiar with the best ways to teach reading. Students are less likely to master math with a teacher who is learning as they go. We are letting our students down during their formative years. Our children deserve better.

How did we get here? It’s deeper than COVID. For the last decade, North Carolina’s state lawmakers have passed state budgets that underfund public education and undermine teachers. Politicians are not treating or paying teachers as professionals. North Carolina’s average teacher salary is $10,000 below the national average. Experienced teachers are leaving the state and profession. College students are choosing other careers.

Better pay would help this problem. New Hanover County recently doubled its local salary supplement for its teachers who are now some of the best paid in the state. A school district with some 1700 teachers started the school year with just ten teaching vacancies. Unfortunately, that’s a solution many rural counties like ours cannot afford. The teacher shortage is a statewide problem that needs a statewide solution. Even NC’s state Supreme Court has said funding public education is the state’s responsibility .

The first step to ending this teacher shortage is adopting a state budget with better funding for public education. Of course, state lawmakers who have underfunded public schools are dithering over a $6.5 BILLION surplus and have still not adopted a new budget that was due two months ago. So far, their budget proposals would largely ignore the NC Supreme Court’s funding demands for education. Instead, they would further cut corporate income taxes.

Meantime, many North Carolina schools are leaning on teaching assistants and long-term subs to cover classrooms that don’t have permanent, licensed teachers. Parents, the public, and voters should tell our politicians to fix this now.


Diane Mitchell is a high school social studies teacher in Hoke County and president of the Hoke Co. Assoc. of Educators. She has been an educator for 40 years.

Dee Grissett is a Career and Technical Education (CTE) Coordinator in Robeson County and president of the Robeson Co. Assoc. of Educators. She has been an educator for 16 years.