Charlotte Observer, 2/20/17

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced Monday that his budget will call for 5 percent teacher raises on average this year and next – with a goal of raising pay to the national average in five years.

Cooper’s teacher pay plan would cost $813 million over two years without raising taxes, he said. During that time teachers would get average raises of 10 percent.

Veteran teachers wouldn’t be left out, as they have been in recent pay hikes, the Democratic governor said. The details weren’t released Monday, but he said all teachers would get approximately 3 percent this year and many would get bigger bumps.

At a news conference at Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s Collinswood Language Academy, Cooper noted that parents entrust their children to teachers every day.

“It’s time to put our money where our trust is,” he said. “It’s time for a significant teacher pay plan.”

Details will come when Cooper releases his budget in the coming weeks. The state House and Senate will also introduce budgets. There’s widespread agreement that teachers need another raise to make up for the stagnation and losses during the recession, but political crossfire and conflict over specifics can be expected.

After Cooper’s announcement, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger released this statement: “After he opposed recent Republican budgets that increased average teacher pay by 15.5 percent, we are pleased Roy Cooper has finally joined legislative efforts to undo the damage of years of Democratic teacher furloughs and teacher pay freezes. We look forward to reviewing his complete budget proposal.”

Republicans have a substantial majority in the General Assembly and will likely play the dominant role in determining the teacher pay plan included in the state budget.

The state Democratic party, meanwhile, sent a news release blaming Republicans, who took control of the General Assembly in 2011.

North Carolina teacher pay was frozen during the recession, sending the average salary to near the bottom of the list of states. Raises in the last couple of years – last year’s averaged 4.7 percent – have pushed the average up to almost $50,000, according to North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, and the National Education Association ranked the state 41st in 2015-16, the most recent national report.

Berger, R-Rockingham, has said he wants to bring the average to $55,000 within two years and has emphasized performance bonuses. House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Kings Mountain, hasn’t cited a specific figure.

Cooper’s proposal would bring average salaries to more than $52,000 in 2017-2018 and nearly $55,000 in 2018-2019, according to a news release.

The plan also calls for an annual classroom supply stipend of $150 so teachers wouldn’t have to pay out of their own pockets.

“These aren’t just investments in our teachers, they are lasting investments in our economy and in our own children’s future,” Cooper said in a news release. “Education is part of North Carolina’s legacy, but recently we’ve fallen behind. My proposal is a serious, multi-year increase in teacher salaries that will get us to the national average so we can show our teachers the respect they deserve.”

While Cooper said his plan won’t require a tax hike, he has said recently that raises for educators and other priorities would require sacrificing tax cuts that Republican lawmakers have promised. The state currently reports a surplus of $550 million to work with.

“I’m going to be asking the business community to go the General Assembly and say, ‘Don’t cut the corporate tax rate again. Instead, raise teacher pay,’ ” Cooper said at a January gathering of education advocates in Raleigh.

He said Monday his budget will also include increases for early childhood education and raises for other state employees, including those who work in schools. “We understand that all of our state employees have been left behind,” he said.