Politics & Government

Teacher raises approved in North Carolina legislature; Democrats say ‘not good enough’

The North Carolina General Assembly on Thursday approved average raises of 3.9% for teachers and 2% for non-instructional staff — both over the next two years and both retroactive to July 1 if signed by the governor.

The Senate voted 28-21 with all Democrats opposed. Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, tweeted that the raises are “inadequate” and said Democrats stood with teachers.

In the House, it passed 62-46 with all but three Democrats opposed to the bill.

Rep. Darren Jackson of Wake County, the House Democratic leader, said the raises are “not good enough.”

Rep. Cynthia Ball, a Wake County Democrat and House Democratic whip, said she wore red Thursday to support public education. She said the bill “does little to address the underpayment of men and women who work tirelessly for our children” and noted the raises are lower than many other state employees’ raises.

Results of the North Carolina House vote on SB 354, which would give teachers raises, on Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019. Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan dvaughan@newsobserver.com

If Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper signs the bill — Senate Bill 354 — teachers would get the raises that were in the state budget Cooper vetoed, which includes step increases for longevity. But Cooper also said the raises are too small. He offered a budget compromise in July including 8.5% average raises.

Republicans added a deal on Wednesday: If Democrats voted with them to override the governor’s budget veto in the Senate, then the bill would also automatically turn the average teacher raise into 4.4% over the next two years; 4% over the next two years plus a 0.5% bonus for non-instructional support staff; 4% over the next two years for UNC System employees and 4% over the next two years for community college employees.

Rep. Linda Johnson, a Kannapolis Republican, said she is proud of the bill, especially the raises it included for noncertified school employees like bus drivers, teacher’s assistants and cafeteria workers.

“The people in our state all want to increase the amount of money in education,” Johnson said.

Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, a North Wilkesboro Republican and a teacher, said if the raises become law, teachers would see it in their paychecks in November.

“Hopefully all this can work out to where our school employees across the state can finally see their pay unfrozen and see pay increases with the holiday season approaching,” Elmore said.

On Thursday morning, Cooper tweeted: “Republican leaders hold teachers hostage. Demand sweeping corporate tax breaks and their entire bad budget in exchange for paltry teacher pay raises that are less than other state employees. Like kidnappers wanting ALL the ransom $$ and still not letting victims go.”

Senate leader Phil Berger tweeted back: “This is false. Nobody should accept this as true. The teacher raise bill provides a 3.9% raise no matter what happens with the rest of the budget. Misleading the public is unacceptable.”

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Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan covers North Carolina state government and politics at The News & Observer. She previously covered Durham for 13 years, and has received six North Carolina Press Association awards, including a 2018 award for investigative reporting.