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Gov. Cooper provides preview of his state budget proposal

Gov. Roy Cooper gave a sneak peak of his proposed budget to a group of middle school educators rather than “the Raleigh media” yesterday in Greensboro. A sign, he said, of respect for educators — which he said educators need more of today.

“Respect,” he said to an audience of more than 100 educators. “Respect is the word. I respect you. … When it comes to the public at large and, often, with the system, you do not get the respect that you deserve. Is 37th in the country for teacher pay respect? I don’t think so. Is adopting pay plans that often ignore veteran teachers respect? I don’t think so. Is taking away money for those who have worked hard to get their master’s degree respect? I don’t think so. Is taking away time and resources for your professional development respect? I don’t think so. 

“With all of the social ills that so many children face and challenges they face when they walk into that school building and expect you to teach them, is fewer counselors, psychologists, school nurses in your school showing respect for you? I don’t think so. Is having to pay your own substitute out of your own pocket respect? I don’t think so.”

Gov. Cooper’s budget proposal, which will be released in full today, will include measures to raise teacher pay by 9.1 percent in two years, a $3.9 billion school bond for construction and renovation, and an expansion of the Teaching Fellows program.

Raising Teacher and Principal Pay

Gov. Cooper said he wants to put North Carolina on a path to become the highest in the Southeast for teacher pay within four years, and will also push for raises in principal pay.

Teachers would see an average pay raise of 9.1 percent over two years with no teacher receiving less than a 3 percent raise in either year. Under the current teacher pay plan enacted by legislators, teachers who keep working beyond 15 years receive only one pay raise of $2,000 after their 24th year of service. Gov. Cooper’s plan, however, would eliminate salary plateaus for veteran teachers, allowing teachers with up to 30 years’ experience to earn more for each year of service. 

The plan would also restore extra pay for teachers who hold a master’s degree in the subject they teach.

Principals would earn more based on both experience as a principal and the size of the student body they lead under Gov. Cooper’s plan, while also restoring salary supplements for principals who hold advanced degrees.

What are your education priorities for North Carolina? Join the People’s Session, an online project that allows you to weigh in on policy issues and add your own priorities. Click here to begin.

School Bond Proposal

Gov. Cooper also threw his hat into the ever-growing ring of school construction and repair proposals, with his plan seeking to put a $3.9 billion bond to North Carolina voters.

“A bond is the smartest way to invest in school construction and renovation and other critical needs without causing harmful cuts elsewhere. With a school bond, we’ll get hammers swinging all across the state and still be able to afford good teachers and principals,” Gov. Cooper said.

The proposed bond would include $2 billion for K-12 public schools statewide, $500 million each for facility improvements at community colleges and University of North Carolina System institutions, $100 million for the NC History Museum and the NC Zoo, and $800 million to invest in clean water through local water and sewer projects.

The proposal was met with applause by the North Carolina Association of Educators.

“Governor Cooper’s proposal also aligns with NCAE’s legislative priorities of providing safe, supportive learning environments for all students and educators,” the group said in a statement. “His plan also calls for a $3.9 billion school construction bond, which will provide a guaranteed funding stream to repair our crumbling schools and the construction of much-needed new ones.”

Recruiting more teachers and hiring non-teaching faculty

Gov. Cooper’s budget offers $5 million to recruit, retain, and support teachers and $5.3 million for more professional development opportunities for teachers and school leaders. Specifically, Gov. Cooper proposes to invest $4 million to expand the Teaching Fellows program to include more universities and more types of teachers.

To keep schools safe and students healthy, the governor’s budget provides $40 million to hire more school nurses, counselors, psychologists, social workers and school resource officers. His budget also includes $15 million for safety improvements and training at K-12 schools. Both recommendations were endorsed in a report issued last month by a special school safety committee headed by local sheriffs.

Signs of Respect

Finally, Gov. Cooper said he would push to make sure teachers no longer had to pay for their own substitutes to take a personal day, and also fight to infuse $29 million in new funding for schools to purchase more textbooks, digital resources, instructional supplies, and enhanced digital learning opportunities for students.

Both signs of respect for educators, he said.

“I think teachers are getting respect from their parents who are involved in these schools and many of the students,” Cooper said. “I think they don’t get enough respect from the public at large and from the system, itself. And I believe if we show that we value our teachers, then we can not only get more people into the teaching profession, which we desperately need, but also we can retain the good teachers that we have.”

Rupen Fofaria

Rupen Fofaria was the equity and learning differences reporter for EducationNC from 2018 through October 2023.