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Editorial: Teacher pay plan ‘a confusing mess’

Almost a week after House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger announced a budget deal, there is still a tremendous amount of confusion over how much of a raise teachers can expect this fall.

Governor Pat McCrory blamed that uncertainty Tuesday on the NC Association of Educators:

The editorial board of Raleigh’s News & Observer explained the pay plan this way in Wednesday’s paper:

Senior teachers will get the smallest raises, with those teachers having five or six years experience getting the largest.

What’s known is that one-time money, meaning money that is not guaranteed as annual revenue, is covering the pay hike. That, along with cuts to health and welfare programs and other spending have been used to balance the books. GOP lawmakers also budgeted more lottery revenue for education.

Unreliable funding

The problems with one-time money include a reliance on unpredictable turns in the future, when a crisis or natural disaster could knock a hole in the budget. The General Assembly’s own fiscal staff says that Republican tax cuts could mean a revenue shortfall this year of $700 million and $880 million more than projected over five years.

There’s another wrinkle for local governments like Wake that fund a supplement for teachers based on a percentage of their state salaries: The extra local pay will reflect the state’s uneven raise lines.

Teachers might be forgiven for being a bit skeptical about a pay hike plan that seems built on a shaky foundation. And some of those teachers wonder whether the pay increase will really pull North Carolina up that far, from the near-bottom, in national teacher pay rankings.

Yes, perhaps alarmed by the state’s abysmal ranking and with House Speaker Thom Tillis in a U.S. Senate campaign that will require him to capture more moderate voters, Republicans did provide a raise for teachers, something that polls showed was tremendously popular.

Misplaced optimism

But because of tax cuts – and there will be additional cuts coming – GOP leaders have tied the state’s future to misplaced optimism that the revenue shortfall won’t be as bad as feared or that they’ll be able to cut their way out of a crisis, should one come.

Once again, the inexperience of Republican leaders is showing. Their teacher pay plan does address the need to pay less-experienced teachers more, and that’s good. But more experienced teachers aren’t getting much, which is going to encourage more of them to retire, and that’s not good.

Read the N&O’s full editorial here. For more on how the new state budget impacts teacher pay and other classroom resources, read education reporter Lindsay Wagner’s story here on N.C. Policy Watch’s main website.

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