Republican leaders of the General Assembly boasted endlessly about the raises they put through for North Carolina’s public school teachers, pushing the average pay to almost $50,000 — although the state remains in the bottom 10 in pay nationally.
Some teachers were skeptical, given that Republicans have bashed public education since taking charge on Jones Street in 2011, and poured money into vouchers for private schools and expanded charter schools, which are public but operate free of many rules governing mainstream schools. Could it have been, the teachers wondered, that the GOP found religion on teacher pay about the same time they were running for re-election?
No coincidence there, of course.
So now comes another test. Gov. Roy Cooper, whose support for public schools goes way back to his own days as a legislator, proposes to give teachers average raises of 5 percent each year for the next two years, and to get pay to the national average in five years. That’s a reasonable, and perhaps even too modest, goal, but it’s a good goal that deserves legislative support. Cooper also supports an annual stipend of $150 for teachers to buy classroom supplies — an overdue idea, but one that likely should be doubled.
Unfortunately, Senate President Pro-tem Phil Berger couldn’t even bring himself to just support the governor’s ideas.
He took a shot in response to Cooper at Democrats, blaming them (and not the recession) for freezes on pay, etc. Berger just can’t bring himself to join the governor even in support of teacher raises.
Oh, Republicans will come with their own plan after commendably raising teacher pay. But whatever they come up with will be joined in their budget with more tax breaks for corporations and wealthy individuals, which is going to limit everything else in the budget.
Cooper, on the other hand, said at a January meeting of school advocates, “I’m going to be asking the business community to go to the General Assembly and say, ‘Don’t cut the corporate tax rate again. Instead, raise teacher pay.’ ”
That’s not going to be a mantra coming from Republicans, of course, but some in the business community may surprise GOP leaders by going along with the governor.
Enlightened business people understand that better teacher pay retains the best teachers, who provide the best education for the next generation of North Carolina workers.
The public schools to which most North Carolinians send their children are the foundation not just of the future of individual students but of the state itself.