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Treating Teachers As Charity? Lieutenant Gov. Calls For Donations

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You may have heard the governor released a plan Wednesday for boosting teacher pay. But there was a second teacher pay announcement by Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest. His proposal would give people the chance to pay for higher teacher salaries, not through their taxes, but through donations. 

Forest says the notion of his North Carolina Education Endowment Fund is just another piece in the complicated teacher pay puzzle. 

“This is by no means a substitution fund of any kind.  But, rather, it’s a supplemental fund for compensation,” explained Forest. 

It would reward what he calls excellence and creativity in the classroom and he says it could help support the governor’s teacher pay plan. It would be funded in large part by individuals, businesses, and foundations.

There are three ways to give: Buy a specialty license plate for an extra $30 or so that says “I support teachers.” Give a portion or, for that matter, all of your tax refund back to the state. If you’re a corporation, just give to the fund and get a tax deduction. 

Senator Jerry Tillman who co-chairs the Education Appropriations Committee thinks it’s a good idea. He said he’s heard people are willing to pay higher taxes to raise teacher pay.  

“Now, this is not exactly called taxes, but it would be a way for them to show that support without doing an across-the-board tax increase on everybody,” said Tillman.

“But why should private individuals support something that taxpayers already are supporting?” asks Todd Cohen, the founder of Philanthropy North Carolina.

He reports on that subject and advises non-profits. Cohen says if state lawmakers want people and businesses to give, they have to convincingly answer that question. He has other questions too:

“What’s the connection with government? What sort of policies or practices or guidelines will there be to make sure that there’s no patronage or political implications for influence that donors would get for making contributions?”

I spoke with several people near our studios in the University area and found one person who was intrigued by the idea. 

“Throughout the year you don’t depend on your tax refund, so it turns out to be extra money in a sense,” said Tavia Hill. “If I’m able to invest in something that’s important throughout the year, I would definitely do it.” 

But she was an exception. 

Carlos Mendez has other priorities. He wouldn’t ever buy a specialty license plate because he likes custom cars with special paint and rims he says.

“I’m not going to put anything extra on my car, unless it’s going to make my car look better,” said Mendez. 

He supports higher pay for teachers. He just thinks it’s the job of lawmakers to figure it out.  That’s about the same thought expressed by Barbara Schreiber. 

“I don’t like the idea of teacher’s getting adequately compensated being considered charity.  That’s just not right,” said Schreiber.  “They’re not charity cases.  They’re people doing an important job and they need to be paid for their job.” 

Besides as Senator Josh Stein pointed out in a committee meeting this week, North Carolina already has a fund for education.  It’s called the North Carolina Education Lottery and it’s been tapped before to plug holes in other parts of the budget.  


Lisa Worf traded the Midwest for Charlotte in 2006 to take a job at WFAE. She worked with public TV in Detroit and taught English in Austria before making her way to radio. Lisa graduated from University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in English.