Pay Our Teachers First (POTF) is working to get North Carolina to put more tax money into public education. At the helm of it all is co-founder Deborah Gerhardt.
Gerhardt became invested in the issue of teacher pay after her son’s beloved language arts teacher left Culbreth because of budget cuts. Gerhardt decided to look into the cause. Once she learned how much teachers in the state make, she had to get involved. “I was shocked, ” said Gerhardt in a phone interview.
Gerhardt’s article, “Pay Our Teachers or Lose Your Job,” published in Slate Magazine, was one of the first accounts to draw attention to the low teacher salaries in NC. The article also detailed her involvement with POTF and served as an introduction to the subject for those with minimal background information.
“A nonpartisan survey from October 2013 showed that 76 percent of North Carolinians agree that public school teachers are paid too little… and 83 percent support increased pay for higher degrees,” said Gerhardt in her article. “I love these data. They prove that the recent legislative assault on teachers does not reflect true North Carolina values.”
Soon after Slate published the article, people could find red “Pay Our Teachers First” T-shirts all over the triangle. POTF also held a town hall meeting at Culbreth in 2014, with thousands of people viewing an online video of the town hall.
The group gained traction because of their ambitious goal: to decrease the high numbers of teachers resigning in NC by increasing teacher pay. Teachers saw a 15 percent salary decrease from 2003 to 2013. A large portion of state taxes are going towards Medicaid, and POTF advocates channeling more of the money back into education.
Currently, POTF is attempting to gain traction within the NC House with regard to state-level education laws. The organization also collaborates with general assembly member Graig Meyer, as well as other members of state legislature, on a project aimed to educate the community and support local teachers.
Partially due to the group’s efforts, more families in the state acknowledge the relatively low salaries in the area and how low salaries can drive their kids’ teachers away from their jobs. “We want [teachers] to know that we understand how hard this is for them,” said Gerhardt.
Although POTF thinks more awareness and a new state governor may mean change for NC education, the organization believes there is still plenty of work to be done. Gerhardt encourages any students with free time to get in touch with the organization.