Politics & Government

On eve of teacher protest, NC lawmakers propose raises for school employees

Updated May 2 with the latest developments.

State legislative leaders announced Tuesday a budget plan to give school employees pay raises this year and to restore extra pay for educators who have advanced degrees. The announcement came a day ahead of a protest that’s expected to bring thousands of educators to Raleigh.

State House Republican leaders said that average raises will range from 10 percent for principals to 4.6 percent for teachers to 1 percent for non-certified school support staff, which include people such as secretaries, custodians and cafeteria workers. The budget also restores the program eliminated in 2013 by lawmakers to give extra pay to teachers who have master’s degrees and other advanced degrees. (Leaders originally said average teacher raises would be 4.8%, but then revised those downward to 4.6%.)

“Our goal is to try to get more teachers to stay in the profession,” said Rep. Donny Lambeth, a Forsyth County Republican and senior chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

The budget meets one of the demands of the N.C. Association of Educators, which is bringing thousands of teachers to Raleigh on Wednesday to lobby for increased funding for education. The group has wanted the restoration of extra pay for teachers who have advanced degrees.

But it falls short of the NCAE demand this year for a $15 minimum wage for school support staff, 5 percent raise for all school employees and a 5 percent cost of living adjustment for retirees.

Mark Jewell, president of NCAE, said he wants to see the budget details in writing first.

”The proof is going to be in the pudding there,” Jewell said in an interview Tuesday. “We are anxiously going to see what their proposals look like, including salaries, restoration of master’s pay and raises for support staff.”

The House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to vote on the budget Wednesday at the same time that thousands of teachers are planning to march on the Legislative Building. Aside from the school pay raises and master’s degree pay, the other demands from the protesters are:

Provide enough school librarians, psychologists, social workers, counselors, nurses and other health professionals to meet national standards.

Expand Medicaid to improve the health of our students and families.

Reinstate state retiree health benefits for teachers who will be hired after 2021.

Organizers hope to bring at least as many people to Raleigh as last year’s protest, in which at least 19,000 people marched on state lawmakers.

In March, Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, unveiled a budget that includes giving teachers a 9.1 percent raise over the next two years. Cooper will likely have more of an impact on this year’s state budget now that Republicans no longer hold veto-proof majorities in the legislature.

The House’s proposed pay raises continue the sixth consecutive year of teacher salary hikes that have lifted the average teacher salary in North Carolina to $53,975 a year. The National Education Association ranks North Carolina as 29th in the nation in average teacher salaries compared to 47th in 2013.

The House budget provides $118.5 million in 2019-20 and $228 million in 2020-21 to increase teacher and instructional support compensation. The budget also provides $48 million over the next two years to increase principal and assistant principal compensation.

House Speaker Tim Moore said that the pay raises will raise the average teacher salary to $55,600 by 2020.

“Under this budget, we will invest a billion dollars in teacher pay raises since 2013,” Moore, a Cleveland County Republican, said at a news conference. “That is a historic achievement.”

Lawmakers said one of their focuses this year was to raise salaries for veteran teachers after having focused in prior years on raises for less experienced educators. The budget would raise the state salary for a teacher with 30 years experience to $60,500 a year.

“We want to go back and do more for our veteran teachers,” Moore said.

Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, a Wilkes County Republican and public school teacher, cited how so many teachers with 26 years or more experience are retiring. He said many of those teachers work in rural counties and are hard to replace.

Elmore said another area they wanted to address is keeping younger teachers in the classroom by giving them pay for advanced degrees. When the state eliminated extra pay for advanced degrees, teachers who already had that benefit were grandfathered.

“We see this as a retention tool,” said Elmore, co-chairman of the House Education Committee. “If you’re a younger teacher considering that you may want to leave the profession, that you can go back to school and get your master’s degree to get that pay bump.”

Elmore said the budget includes another tool designed to help young teachers who agree to work in smaller, less affluent school systems. The state would provide $1,000 to $2,000 per bonus that small districts could match to offer as a signing bonus to recruit teachers.

State lawmakers announced other parts of the education budget including:

Additional funding for school safety.

Expanding the N.C. Teaching Fellows program to include more universities that aspiring teachers can receive scholarships to attend. Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican and co-chair of the House Education Committee said it’s most likely that at least one historically black college or university will be added to the program.

Creating a $15 million pilot program where teachers will get $145 to purchase classroom supplies. They can use the ClassWallet app to purchase from select vendors or make their own purchases and get reimbursement.

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.