Helen F. Ladd is the Susan B. King professor of public policy and professor of economics at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. Her current research focuses primarily on education policy, with a particular focus on education finance, school choice, teacher labor markets, and school accountability.

In Spring 2014, Professor Ladd and Edward Fiske set out to explain North Carolina’s complicated education past and present. They touch on the success of the “North Carolina Way” – investing in education, roads, and culture in order to modernize – in earning a reputation of Southern progressivism, and how the bi-partisan commitment to education attracted teachers here for decades. Ladd and Fiske also discuss   how North Carolina went from 43rd in the nation in teacher pay, to the national average and then back to 46th in the span of less than 20 years.

Think sat down with Professor Ladd to ask her expert opinion on the latest education news in North Carolina.

 Based on your research, how do you think the new salary schedule that the General Assembly voted in will impact teachers? Will it be an effective incentive?

"At best the legislative action represents a minimal first step. Raising salaries for early career teachers is essential, but the state also needs to increase salaries for more experienced teachers. Otherwise, they will leave for nearby states or other jobs. That would be a great loss for this state given the value of teacher experience."

What other factors should schools or lawmakers focus on to make teaching a more attractive profession?

"We need to pay a lot of attention to the quality of school leadership. In addition, given the prevalence of poverty in this state, we need to make sure that children have access to the things they need to succeed in school – sufficient food, health care, and early childhood programs – and that teachers have the support services they need to do their jobs."

Lawmakers have lifted North Carolina’s cap on charter schools in order to qualify for federal Race to the Top funds. How will the growing presence of charter schools affect our public schools?

"The effects of charter schools will differ across counties. The challenge for state and public policy makers is to put structures in place to assure that the charters serve the public good, and not just the private interests of the families who attend them or the operators of the schools."

A state judge recently ruled private school vouchers as unconstitutional. How do you think this ruling will affect public education in the state?

"It is too early to say what will happen to the decision as it is appealed. In my view, Hobgood’s ruling was the correct one. Public money should not be used to pay for schooling in private schools for which there is no public accountability."

What is the first thing lawmakers should do to fix North Carolina’s teacher pay problems?

"The first thing the legislature needs to do is to reverse the tax cuts so that there will be more revenue to raise teacher salaries, and to provide the other supports for teachers, such as social workers and teaching assistants."

Click here to find more of Professor Ladd's research.