An education summit of half the nation's governors and top business leaders today endorsed efforts to raise the salaries of teachers and principals, including merit pay plans, in order to improve the quality of the teaching force and ease shortages in the classroom.

"We've got to raise pay for teachers. You can't get there from here without it," North Carolina Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. said at a news conference closing the two-day summit. He urged governors to push for state funding to increase the base salaries of teachers, as many states did after a 1983 report decried the state of the nation's schools.

In a four-page "action statement," summit participants pledged to "develop competitive salary structures to retain the best-qualified teachers and school leaders" and to vary their pay based on responsibilities, skills and performance. Nationally, teachers are paid an average of $35,000 annually.

The statement essentially embraced what some states, such as California and North Carolina, have already begun to do--pay teachers more if they get certified by a national board or if standardized test scores rise in their schools. More controversial are plans such as one adopted on an experimental basis in Denver last month that would base teachers' pay on their students' academic progress.

Leaders of teachers unions, who participated in the summit, praised the call for higher salaries. "People realize if you don't pay for quality, you're not going to get it," said Robert Chase, president of the National Education Association, the largest teachers union.

Chase urged caution, however, in implementing performance pay plans. Sandra Feldman, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said her union did not oppose such plans provided they began as experiments. "That's a secondary issue. The primary issue is, teacher pay is too low," she said.

Business leaders, who have longer experience with performance pay, promised to work with at least 10 states to implement such plans for teachers. None of the 25 governors who attended immediately volunteered to participate.

--Kenneth J. Cooper