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Teacher pay: Bill would provide bonuses but no new pay raises

Update 8:55 p.m.: The teacher bonus bill — Compensation of Certain School Employees passed the full Senate and goes now to the House.

A bill making its way through the state Senate would give $350 bonuses and planned salary step increases (increased pay due to an increase in experience) to teachers but does not include new pay raises.

Titled “Compensation of Certain School Employees,” the legislation essentially leaves principals at their current level of pay, though it does allow for change in compensation if the population of their school has grown. Principal pay is calculated based on two metrics: size of the school and student academic growth.

The bill also “encourages” additional bonuses for educators, but it leaves that up to Gov. Roy Cooper. It asks that the governor tap into his emergency education relief fund — federal funds given to the governor to combat COVID-19 — and use it to provide a $600 bonus to teachers, instructional support personnel, and non-certified personnel.

That is unlikely to happen, however. Ford Porter, spokesperson for the governor, tweeted that federal guidance precludes the use of those funds for teacher bonuses.

Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE), put out a press release this week criticizing the bill, which has moved through a number of Senate committees but has yet to be heard by the full Senate.

“The disrespect being shown to educators in this pay bill (SB 818) is egregious,” said Jewell in the release. “Educators have been on the front lines of this pandemic from the beginning, making the meals, adapting the curriculum, serving the food, and checking in on their students’ emotional and physical well-being. We put our health, and the health of our families, at risk day after day, and yet this General Assembly only sees fit to give us a $350 bonus. All other state employees are still scheduled to get their 2.5 percent raise, on top of the 2.5 percent they received last year, when again, we received nothing. North Carolina educators were worth more last year, and we are worth more today.”

But Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, senior budget writer, accused the NCAE of trying to “gaslight” teachers in a press release.

He said that during the long session of the General Assembly, it was the governor and Senate Democrats who opposed a 3.9% teacher pay raise being offered by the General Assembly. And that was back when the state had a $1 billion surplus. The release states that things are different now that the state has a deficit.

“Democrats, Gov. Cooper and the NCAE use teachers as political pawns instead of actually caring about their salaries,” Brown said in the release. “Teachers should be furious that the advocacy group they send hundreds of dollars to each year rejected a pay raise because of political allegiance to Gov. Cooper, leaving teachers with nothing. The NCAE should return its dues to members for such a failure.”

The long session of the General Assembly ended last year with no full budget because the governor vetoed it. And one of the reasons he gave for that decision was teacher pay.

On teacher pay, the vetoed budget included an average 3.9% pay raise over the biennium, but all new raises went to teachers with 16 years of experience or more. Teachers with fewer than 16 years simply would have gotten their planned step increases. Cooper’s plan would have included an average 9.1% increase for teachers, as well as the restoration of master’s pay. 

So Cooper vetoed the budget. In a surprise morning vote, the House managed to override the veto when a lot of Democrats were out of the room. But the veto override stalled in the Senate. 

Republicans tried to sweeten the deal. They passed legislation that would have given teachers an average 4.4% pay raise over two years if Democrats helped to defeat Cooper’s veto of the budget. If not, it would give teachers the same average 3.9% raise that was in the budget. That bill ended up getting vetoed, too, so the result is that teachers got no teacher pay raises.

Other legislation

Other notable pieces of legislation that moved through the General Assembly this week include:

Senate Bill 816 passed the full House this week. It would fund enrollment growth for the state’s community colleges for the coming school year. In total, it would provide $41.5 million to fund enrollment growth using money from the federal government earmarked to battle COVID-19 impacts. 

This is a big deal, because in 2019, community colleges around the state saw their first large-scale growth systemwide after years of declining enrollment.

A House addition to the bill would also provide supplemental funding to the following Cooperative Innovative High Schools:

  • Center for Industry, Technology, and Innovation
  • Innovation Early College High School
  • Marine Sciences and Technologies Early College High School
  • Roanoke Rapids Early College High School
  • Southeast Area Technical High School
  • Halifax Early College High School
  • Stanly STEM Early College High School
  • Gaston Early College of Medical Sciences High School

The bill had already passed the Senate, but since the House added language it had to go back to the Senate for concurrence. The Senate didn’t concur, so the bill goes now to a conference committee to resolve the differences.

A bill that would fund lab schools and expand the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program is making its way through the House. House Bill 1096 gives $500,000 for UNC laboratory schools and expands the Teaching Fellows program from five universities to eight. It also increases the top loan amounts these teachers could get from $2,000 to $2,200 if they work in a low-performing school

A bill that would allow seniors in one school district to get a grade for the spring semester if they want passed the General Assembly this week. Originally, the bill was a statewide bill that was in opposition to a State Board of Education decision that seniors can only choose between a passing grade or withdraw from the course. 

The bill that ultimately passed only allows Union County Public Schools to let seniors in the district get grades if they want.

A bill that would waive a road test requirement for teenagers under 18 passed the General Assembly this week.

The bill would also allow students who had been enrolled in driver’s education in the spring semester before schools were closed to be marked as having completed the course if they had done 15 hours of classroom instruction. They are also required to take six hours of behind-the-wheel instruction.

The waiver of road test requirements lasts until the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles resumes the road tests, which have been halted during COVID-19.

bill that would fund enrollment growth at K-12 public schools for the coming school year passed the General Assembly this week, as did legislation that would give $3.3 million to fund operations at the new Morganton Campus of the North Carolina School of Science and Math, allowing it to open in 2022.

Correction: The articleTeacher pay: Bill would provide bonuses but no new pay raises,” incorrectly stated that a bill funding enrollment growth for community colleges had passed the full General Assembly. The bill passed both the Senate and the House, but additional language added in the House necessitated the bill return to the Senate for concurrence. The Senate did not concur and the bill is now in a conference committee to resolve the differences. 

Alex Granados

Alex Granados was the senior reporter for EducationNC from December 2014-March 2023.