The debate over teacher pay raises is over, at least as far as the general public is concerned. The Republicans announced they would roll out a plan next week and now the N.C. Chamber, the advocacy arm of the GOP, has laid out their vision. In a full-page ad in the News & Observer, the Chamber says “We simply can’t afford to lose our best and brightest teachers to other states.” It also calls for raising “the salaries of entry-level teachers to the national average.”

It’s a smart move. They have essentially co-opted the language of the progressives while adding a few caveats  that the general public won’t notice. Republicans in the legislature and Gov. Pat McCrory will almost certainly endorse this or a very similar plan.

The plan may be less than the across-the-board raises that progressives and NCAE are demanding but the public is not going to understand the nuance. Average voters, who just barely catch policy debates out of the corner of their ears, will hear “pay raise for teachers” and, maybe, “national average.” If Democrats oppose the plan too vigorously, then the voters will hear, “Democrats oppose the teacher pay raise.” And GOP-allied mailers or ads will certainly reinforce that notion.

It’s similar to what Bill Clinton did with welfare reform. In the 1990s, Republicans used welfare reform as both a wedge issue and the central tenet of their campaign platform. Clinton pushed through his own version and while the GOP griped that it was too little, the plan passed and Clinton got credit.

That’s where progressives are today. While the details of the pay plan are yet to emerge, progressives would be smart to claim victory and move on to the next problem. There are certainly plenty of them. Focus on class size, teacher assistants, school supplies, per pupil spending, but the salary debate over is for this year.


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