North Carolina Set to Give Teachers a 7% Pay Raise

The Republican-majority North Carolina legislature has announced that there is a tentative agreement on the budget which would include a 7% raise for North Carolina’s teachers, writes Richard Fausset of The New York Times.

Of the $21.3 billion budget, $282 million will go to teacher salary increases.  This money will raise North Carolina’s average teacher salary to 32nd in the nation from 46th.

Phil Berger, president pro tem of the Senate, and Speaker Thom Tillis of the House, said that this would be the largest teacher pay raise in the state’s history that did not rely on a raising taxes.  However, there are many analysts who are curious about the source of this $282 million.  The text of the compromise bill may hold the answer. The report was released on Wednesday.

The level of pay for teachers has been something of an embarrassment to the state, especially since the North Carolina stands behind its efforts to provide quality education.  But Republicans hold full control of the state government for the first time since Reconstruction, and approved many tax changes including an income-tax cut that will reduce state revenue by $680 million this year, according to a study by the state’s Legislative Services Office.

“We all know you can’t give a 7% raise without doing a lot of bad things,” said Adam Linker, a health policy analyst with the North Carolina Justice Center, a liberal group.

In fact, John Frank, reporter for the Raleigh News and Observer, says that the new plan does avoid any important cuts to Medicaid, but a large fix to the health insurance program for the poor remains unresolved.  The Senate had previously approved a budget that included important changes to Medicaid, but the House and Gov. Pat McCrory resisted.  This impasse caused budget negotiations to lengthen.  A version of the House plan won out, but McCrory has threatened to veto it on two occasions if the Medicaid program was cut too much.

The budget, as it stands now, would boost starting teachers’ salaries to $35,000 over two years, as well as giving state employees a $1,000 raise and five extra vacation days, reports Jim Morrill of the Charlotte Observer.

The governor had been quoted as saying he would veto any teacher raise higher than 6%, but Berger said that he and Tillis discussed the budget with McCrory over dinner on Sunday.

“I would say he expressed some concerns … We’ve tried to address those concerns,” Berger said. “I think our members feel that what we have is a very positive overall package. … We’re optimistic that the governor will see that as well.”

A spokesman for the governor was more cautious, according to WNCN.

“There are several major issues that are being worked on, including Medicaid eligibility, to hopefully avoid a veto,” McCrory spokesman Josh Ellis said. “We appreciate the ongoing dialogue.”

Berger and Tillis included in their must-have list: replacing the current 37-step pay schedule for teachers to a six-step system; discontinuing supplemental pay for teachers with master’s degrees, but grandfathering those who currently have a master’s degree and those who are currently pursuing a master’s degree; maintaining funding for the University of North Carolina system; continuing current levels of eligibility for Medicaid benefits.

Alexandra Sirotta, director of the progressive Budget and Tax Center, believes that the budget is “unsustainable and fiscally irresponsible”.

“Budget writers … ignored the state’s revised revenue estimates, which show that the tax cuts passed last year are costing the state much more than lawmakers previously claimed, while primarily benefiting wealthy taxpayers and profitable corporations, not average people,” she said.

Educators are dubious, too.

“The devil’s in the details,” said Mark Jewell, a vice president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, who added that the proposal would give smaller raises to teachers’ support staff.

“The budget proposed today,” he said, “does not fulfill the promise to North Carolina’s public school children.”