Politics & Government

McCrory proposes 5 percent raises for NC teachers

jhknight@newsobserver.com

Gov. Pat McCrory presented a package of education spending proposals Tuesday that included a 5 percent average teacher pay raise and bonuses that would average 3.5 percent.

McCrory said that veteran teachers, who got the smallest increases in a 2014 pay plan, would get the bigger bonuses. Teachers with 25 or more years experience would receive $5,000 bonuses; those with less experience would get $1,100 bonuses. Principals would be included in the plan for bonuses.

The state salary schedule now caps base pay at $50,000 a year for the most experienced teachers without master’s degrees. McCrory said his plan would bring average teacher pay to more than $50,000.

He said his proposed education budget also would include a $2 million college scholarship program for students who want to teach math and science.

North Carolina has seen a sharp enrollment decline in its state universities’ schools of education. The legislature ended a college scholarship program for prospective teachers, NC Teaching Fellows, which was a prominent recruitment tool.

McCrory also proposes an additional $5 million in private school vouchers for students with disabilities.

The teacher raises would cost an estimated $250 million and the teacher bonuses $165 million, according to McCrory’s office.

HB2 storm still rages

Meanwhile, the continuing controversy over a new law limiting LGBT protections overshadowed McCrory’s education announcement.

Logan Smith, communications director for Progress NC Action, a group critical of McCrory, said the news conference was McCrory’s failed attempt at a distraction, coming as it did on the day PayPal announced it had canceled plans to expand in Charlotte because of the law.

“He has these election year gimmicks,” Smith said. “He needs something to change the conversation.”

McCrory is facing what probably will be a tough re-election campaign against state Attorney General Roy Cooper.

McCrory spokesman Josh Ellis said the education presentation was planned long before the PayPal announcement. “This is around the time budgets are rolled out,” he said.

The legislature is set to return to Raleigh on April 25 to work on a state budget, and teacher raises are expected to be a major topic. Any proposals for raises would have to make it through the legislative budget process.

McCrory presented his education package at Ragsdale, his former high school in Jamestown, where he announced a plan for major raises for early-career teachers two years ago. Unlike the 2014 event, McCrory made Tuesday’s announcement without legislative leaders and other lawmakers who focus on education in attendance. It is unclear whether leading Republican lawmakers support McCrory’s plan.

Senate leader Phil Berger’s and House Speaker Tim Moore’s offices did not respond to questions. In January, Moore said teacher raises were likely to be in the 2 percent range.

Ellis said Tuesday’s announcement cannot be compared to 2014 because McCrory was presenting a proposal for education spending beyond raises.

Sen. Jerry Tillman, an Archdale Republican who helps write the education budget, said he had not heard about McCrory’s plan, but wants to raise teacher pay — “something more than 2 percent” — with a focus on veteran teachers.

Mark Jewell, vice president of the N.C. Educators Association, said his organization hadn’t heard the details, but the proposal was not enough to address what he called a “crisis” in public education. NCAE has endorsed Cooper in the governor’s race.

“It’s going to take more than a 5 percent increase to reverse all the damage that’s been done to North Carolina public school children,” Jewell said.

Lynn Bonner: 919-829-4821, @Lynn_Bonner

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