RALEIGH — Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposal for a 5 percent increase in teacher pay is being applauded by area legislators and educators — but they say teachers deserve more.
And at least two local lawmakers expect any raise would be less.
McCrory announced last week that he would include the pay-hike proposal with a one-time bonus for veteran educators only in his state budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
”The pay raise might help some, but we aren’t where we need to be,” said Rep. Ken Goodman. “We need to respect our educators. To ask that our educators should only make the average salary in North Carolina is like asking someone to earn a C instead of an A.”
North Carolina is ranked 47th in the country for average salaries for public school teachers, according to the most recent estimate by the National Education Association. A first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree and no special certifications will make $35,000 a year while an educator who has been in the classroom for upwards of 20 years makes about $46,500.
“Two years ago, when I announced a significant teacher pay raise plan right here at Ragsdale (High School), I promised that we would not stop there,” McCrory said during the announcement in Greensboro. “Today, I am following through on that promise and introducing an aggressive education budget that will bring average teacher pay to more than $50,000 for the first time in state history.”
According to WRAL, the $50,000 figure includes local supplements. Under the plan, bonuses for teachers and principals would average 3.5 percent of salaries and reach $5,000 for teachers with 25 years or more of experience.
The permanent pay raises, according to McCrory’s office, would cost about $250 million each year while the one-time bonuses would run $165 million for teachers and $10 million for principals. McCrory said the money can be found in an expected budget surplus.
“We’ve got to make it happen,” said Rep. Garland Pierce. “Once you give it, it’s got to remain in place. I think the public would understand if there had to be cuts in other areas to support our education system. We’ve got to celebrate and value education. That means we must invest in education.”
Pierce said the raise may help combat the “revolving door” of teachers leaving North Carolina for higher-paying gigs in other states.
Rep. Charles Graham said the pay raise would boost morale among teachers.
“There has been a war on public education and I think teachers sense that,” Graham said. “Look at the facts. We’ve given money to the wealthiest people in our state and to corporations instead of giving it to our teachers and public education. I believe teachers are very discouraged when they look at everything that has happened over the past few years. We need to demonstrate to our teachers that we support them and the way to do that is to put that money out there.”
Jamie Burney, a local representative of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said teachers have powered through pay freezes and the loss of longevity pay. He says teachers deserve more than a 5 percent increase, but they’ll take what they can get.
“Whether you’re Democratic or Republican, you’re going to need to do that pay increase to keep those teachers,” Burney said. “We went to college for four years and maybe even got a master’s degree. We have student loans to pay.”
Mark Jewell, the vice president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, called McCrory’s suggestion an “election-year proposal.” Pierce said that could work to the benefit of the teachers.
“It’s all political this year, so you’re not going to find many folks who have any desire not to support teachers,” he said. “It shouldn’t be about that. Teachers should not get caught in political limbo. They should not be used as political pawns.”
Sen. Jane Smith and Goodman both doubt that the House and Senate will follow through with the 5 percent increase, and expect a pay hike of 2 or 3 percent.
“I think we’re going to have to do an increase if we’re going to keep and recruit good teachers,” Smith said. “I think teachers don’t go into the profession to make money, but they should certainly earn a decent wage and shouldn’t have to pay for their own supplies out of their pocket.”
McCrory also plans to propose that $2 million go toward funding 300 scholarships that will attract qualified math and science teachers for public schools; $5 million for education scholarships for K-12 students with disabilities; and more money to expand Wi-Fi access in the public schools and increase the use of electronic textbooks.
Gabrielle Isaac can be reached at 910-816-1989 or on Twitter @news_gabbie.