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Republicans offer Democrats a tough teacher pay proposal

The Senate punted the veto override vote for the third day in a row, but not before dangling a potentially tantalizing proposal to Democrats: teacher pay raises contingent on passage of the budget. 

Lawmakers rolled out a pay plan that includes more than the average 3.9% pay raise than was in the original budget bill vetoed by Governor Roy Cooper. However, the extra money only happens if the budget actually passes, meaning enough Democrats must side with Republicans in the Senate to override Cooper’s veto. 

“This teacher pay plan goes above and beyond what a bipartisan supermajority passed in the original budget,” Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said in a press release in the afternoon. “We will soon learn whether Senate Democrats are more committed to the Governor’s Medicaid ultimatum or to what they claim is a top priority: teachers.”

One of the main sticking points for the stalemate between Cooper and legislative Republicans is Medicaid expansion, which Cooper is pushing. But teacher pay was also a big point of contention. Cooper’s plan would have included an average 9.1% increase for teachers, as well as the restoration of master’s pay for newly hired teachers. 

The pay proposal in the bill introduced tonight includes two sections:

The first includes the same average 3.9% pay raise over two years that was in the original budget. With that pay proposal, all new raises would go to teachers with 16 years of experience or more. This part of the pay plan is not contingent on the override — it will go forward regardless, assuming the House and Senate pass the bill and Cooper signs it. 

The second section would raise that salary increase to a 4.4% pay increase over the biennium for teachers. The extra money would come in the second year and would also go towards the same veteran teachers. This section also includes a 4% pay raise (2% in each year) over the biennium for community college employees — up 2% from what was in the budget and in a bill that passed the General Assembly earlier today (see below for more on that). 

House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said that the money for the extra raises is made possible by $277 million more than anticipated in tax collections projected to come in over the biennium. 

“This reflects with the surplus, that we have the commitment of the House of Representatives and the Senate to invest even more in public education,” he said. “This is an amount that’s huge.”

These provisions from the second section — with the new money — are contingent on the passage of the budget. The veto override vote is scheduled for the Senate tomorrow.

Opponents took to the Internet to condemn the plan after its announcement.

Sen. Minority Leader Dan Blue, D-Wake, sent out a press release where he said he has tried to negotiate with Berger, offering a compromise that would give teachers a 6.5% raise, along with a 2.5% raise for non-certified school employees. 

“I came to Senator Berger last week with proposals for teacher, retiree and state worker salaries. I made these offers in the hope that Democrats and Republicans could send a mini-budget on state worker wages that Governor Cooper could sign into law,” he said in the statement. “Context matters – and we have made it clear that Democrats will not vote to override the Governor’s veto. Instead, we will work with Republicans to improve the mini-budgets they have proposed.”

Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, called the pay proposal “wildly insulting to educators,” in an emailed statement. 

“We stood with the Governor on his veto of the budget because it failed North Carolina educators on every level, and we stand with the Governor now in mutual disgust over this bill,” he said in his statement. “By trying to somehow entice Democratic lawmakers to override the Governor’s veto with minuscule pay increases is not only disgusting, it shows how desperate Republican leaders really are to get their tax cuts pushed through.”

The House education appropriations committee took up and gave a favorable vote to the new teacher pay bill tonight. It is scheduled to be heard in the full House and Senate tomorrow.

With the General Assembly also set to adjourn tomorrow — for the time being — the bill will have to move fast through the House and the Senate to pass before closing time.  

In other news, the House took action today on a bill that would provide faculty and personnel pay to the state’s community colleges — one of the priorities sought by the community college system office — which amounts to $12.4 million recurring in the first year and $24.8 million recurring in the second year. That’s the same amount that was contained in the vetoed budget.

The House also passed a bill that came out of the Senate that gives eligible teachers their step increases and gives pay increases to principals. Under the bill, principals get an average 6.2% pay bump, same as in the budget. 

Both of those bills now go on to the governor for his signature. 

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.