Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said Wednesday morning that he wanted to increase teacher pay and restore a teacher training and scholarship program as he accepted the endorsement of the N.C. Association of Educators in the race for governor.
The NCAE represents teachers and other school personnel. It has a history of endorsing Democrats for the state’s highest office.
NCAE’s is the first big endorsement of the election season and comes before the candidate filing period ends.
Republican Gov. Pat McCrory is running for a second term.
“One of the main reasons I am running for governor is that we have stepped back in public education over the last few years,” Cooper said. “It is unconscionable that North Carolina ranks last in the southeast in per pupil expenditure for our public schools. It is unconscionable that we rank 42nd in the country in teacher pay.”
Cooper said teachers are leaving the profession because of “a lack of basic respect” from McCrory and legislative leaders.
Last year, legislators streamlined the teacher salary schedule and gave teacher raises that averaged 7 percent. Teachers early in their careers saw the biggest wage increases. The salary scale tops out at $50,000 a year for the most experienced teachers.
This year, teachers and state employees received one-time $750 bonuses.
In a statement, Billy Constangy, McCrory campaign director, touted McCrory’s education record.
“Governor McCrory is proud of his record of passing the largest teacher pay increase in the country, increasing education funding to an all-time high and seeing North Carolina's high school graduation rate increase to the best it's ever been,” he wrote. “At the end of the day, we'd rather the endorsement of the state's hard-working teachers, parents and taxpayers, not the union leadership.”
NCAE President Rodney Ellis said the association decided to endorse early because Cooper’s ideals and principles align closely with those of the organization.
Cooper said he wants to reestablish the N.C. Teaching Fellows in some form. The program offered college scholarships in exchange for agreements to teach in the state for four years. The legislature ended funding for the program, and the last class graduated last spring.
“The elimination of that program made no sense at all,” Cooper said.
The state Republican Party denounced the endorsement of “labor union bosses.”
"It's no surprise that labor union bosses have cut a back room deal to endorse Roy Cooper for more power and influence in our state’s capitol,” NCGOP Chairman Hasan Harnett said in a statement. “The NCAE and Roy Cooper were willing accomplices to the years of pay freezes and the massive decline in teacher pay in North Carolina under Governors (Mike) Easley and (Bev) Perdue and care more about power for union bosses than educating our kids.”
The state Democratic Party weighed in, saying McCrory has failed students and teachers.
“Ask any parent and they’ll tell you that they are concerned about the exodus of North Carolina’s best teachers to other states,” the Democratic Party statement said. “It’s time for new priorities in Raleigh and leaders who will put students and teachers first.”
Ken Spaulding, a Durham Democrat who plans to challenge Cooper in the primary, criticized NCAE for making an endorsement before all candidates have officially filed to run.
“Unfortunately, the NCAE has yielded to the ‘establishment’ wing of the Democratic Party to attempt to short circuit the people's right to decide for themselves who can best represent all the people of this state,’ Spaulding said in a statement.