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Cooper presents budget proposal which includes pay raises for all teachers

Governor Roy Cooper presented his proposed 2018-19 budget revision today, including a pay raise package to give every teacher in the state at least a 5 percent pay raise, with some receiving raises of up to 14.8 percent. 

He and his budget director, Charles Perusse, contrasted the plan with the Republican pay plan passed last year which is slated to give teachers an average 6.5 percent pay raise for the 2018-19 school year. Perusse said the GOP plan does not include extra money for all teachers. 

“In the current teacher pay plan that the legislature adopted, veteran teachers with 25 years of experience or more, are scheduled to receive no pay raise in the 2018-19 legislative teacher pay plan,” Perusse said.

The General Assembly passed a two year budget plan last year during the long session. Gov. Cooper’s proposal represents revisions to year two of last year’s budget.

The governor’s pay raise proposal amounts to an average 8 percent raise for teachers, and would require about $110 million to fund. He proposes tweaking tax cuts slated to go into effect next year to generate the necessary revenue. Income tax cuts would continue as planned for those who make $200,000 a year or less being taxed at a rate of 5.25 percent. Those who make more would be taxed at 5.499 percent, though the first $200,000 of their income would be taxed at the lower rate. Under the GOP’s long session budget, the individual income tax rate dropped to 5.25 percent for everyone in 2018-19. 

The proposed tax changes would make up about $68 million needed for Gov. Cooper’s teacher pay raise. The rest, he said, would come by freezing the corporate tax rate at 3 percent in 2018-19. It was slated to drop to 2.5 percent. The change would generate $42 million in revenue for the teacher pay raises. 

“My budget assures that all teachers will get at least a 5 percent raise, including veteran teachers, who the legislature keeps leaving out,” Gov. Cooper said. 

Gov. Cooper’s proposed budget also includes a $150 stipend for teachers to spend on classroom supplies, as well as $25 million for textbooks and digital learning. 

He proposed $75 million to help district build classrooms “to begin to fix the class size chaos that the legislature created last year,” he said. 

A long battle over class size restrictions mandated by the General Assembly was resolved earlier this year. Districts complained that the restrictions would have forced them to eliminate “enhancement teachers” (physical education, music, arts). The General Assembly decided to phase in the restrictions and create a dedicated funding stream for enhancement teachers. A complaint by districts that the restrictions would require districts to build more classrooms — a financial burden on local districts — was left unanswered in the General Assembly’s measure. 

Gov. Cooper also proposed a $2 billion school construction bond to help districts build new schools. 

Gov. Cooper called for an average 8 percent pay raise for principals and assistant principals, and he is also planning to revamp the principal salary schedule. Under the new schedule created by the General Assembly last year, principals get a base salary dependent on the size of their school, and can then receive additional money depending on whether their school does not meet, meets, or exceeds academic growth. Gov. Cooper’s schedule would have a base salary schedule with step-based pay increases depending on years of experience, and a “complementary” schedule that would provide a pay supplement based on school size. A hold harmless provision that prevents principals who made more under the old salary schedule (in existence prior to last year’s long session) from losing pay would continue. 

“North Carolina should treat educators like the professionals they are,” he said. “They shouldn’t have to take to the streets to get what they deserve.” 

Gov. Cooper’s budget proposal includes a $130 million plan to address school safety and mental health, including $40 million for counselors, psychologists, and social workers, and $10 million for more school resource officers. 

The short session starts next week, and legislators are already working behind the scenes to craft their revised 2018-19 budget proposals. When asked whether his budget proposal would amount to anything or if lawmakers would just ignore it, Gov. Cooper claimed credit for last year’s teacher pay raises, saying his budget proposal pushed Republicans to give higher teacher salary increases than they would have otherwise. He said he is presenting his budget proposal to legislative members today. 

“They say they want to raise teacher pay,” he said. “Let’s really do it.” 

When asked about the teacher protests slated for Raleigh next week, Gov. Cooper said teachers need to get what they deserve.

“It’s a shame that teachers have to rally for respect and have to come to the General Assembly,” he said. “What we need to do is pay them what we have to pay them.” 

House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, and Senate President Pro Tempore, Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, released a joint statement after Gov. Cooper’s press conference, calling the governor’s budget proposal “an unserious attempt to score political points.” 

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and during his over 30-year career in politics, Roy Cooper has dutifully followed the same failed tax-and-spend policy playbook that led to furloughed North Carolina teachers, massive education cuts, hiring freezes for state employees and frozen teacher salaries the last time Democrats were in charge,” they said in the statement. 

The statement goes on to tout the Republican’s plan to fund “key priorities,” including a “fifth consecutive teacher pay raise.” 

Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, praised Gov. Cooper’s budget proposal in a press release. 

“Governor Cooper makes students, educators, and families a priority in this proposed budget,” Jewell said. “His plan puts more textbooks in the hands of our students, enhances the well-being of our students with more school nurses, social workers, and counselors, and puts us back on track to get educator pay and per-pupil funding to the national average.” 

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson also weighed in on the governor’s budget proposal in a statement sent to press. 

“I am pleased with many of the education items in Gov. Cooper’s budget request, such as more funding for textbooks and digital learning. And I commend the governor for proposing pay increases for teachers that are very similar to the General Assembly’s plan for next school year,” he said. “With this developing bipartisan consensus, I am confident that teachers will see a well-deserved fifth year in a row of pay increases above the inflation rate.”

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.