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House education budget, including modest raises for most teachers, getting a tepid reaction

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Throughout the day, leaders in the House budget committee have been hammering out the details of their proposed $22.2 billion spending plan that, notably, includes a revised salary schedule directing raises toward some of the state’s more experienced teachers (see page 31 of these proposed committee substitutes here).

The News & Observer‘s Colin Campbell offered a pretty thorough explanation of the House plan Monday. In a nutshell, as explained by Campbell:

Teachers would get more than other state employees under the House plan. The teacher raise would average 4.1 percent and bring the average teacher salary to $50,000 over the next two years – a goal (Gov. Pat) McCrory stressed in his proposal.

Teachers with less than five years of experience wouldn’t get a raise this year, and teachers with 25 years or more would get 2 percent – the smallest raises. Teachers in both those categories would instead receive a $1,000 bonus that would count toward their retirement.

The biggest teacher raises – 5 percent – would go to teachers with 10 to 14 years of experience. Teachers with five to nine years would get 4.1 percent, teachers with 15-19 years would get 3.4 percent, and teachers with 20-24 years would get 3.2 percent.

“For the last two years, we have worked to bring starting teacher pay up,” said Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican and the House’s lead budget writer. “Now we’re working on addressing the middle ranges of teacher experience and continuing to make sure that we can be competitive and retain those experienced teachers. Ultimately, the House’s goal is to see us be at or above the average teacher salary for the Southeast.”

In order to add the state employee raises to the teacher raises, the House would spend less on teachers than McCrory’s plan – a total of $150.5 million in the House, compared to $246.6 million in the governor’s budget.

It remains to be seen how the final budget will turn out. Senate budget leaders have been consistently more difficult to sway on K-12 funding in recent years.

In the meantime, public school advocates are offering some tepid reactions to the legislature’s proposal today.

N.C. Association of Educators President Rodney Ellis, who leads the state’s largest teacher advocacy organization, once again suggested that the House discussion over teacher pay amounts mostly to electioneering.

NCAE has consistently beaten the drum that for our students to be more successful we must invest fully in our public schools by increasing the resources they have and by compensating educators as professionals,” said Ellis.

“Now, because it’s an election year, our state elected leaders are starting to hear the sound of the beat. We need more than an election year plan. Our public school students and educators deserve a comprehensive plan to elevate North Carolina from the bottom tier of the country.”

The Public School Forum of N.C., a nonpartisan policy and research group in Raleigh, was also mostly cool to the proposal Tuesday, although Keith Poston, president of the group, told Policy Watch that House leaders are “heading in the right direction.”

“We really need to be more aggressive on overall teacher pay because other states are not standing still,” said Poston. “The governor and the House are setting $50K in average teacher pay as the benchmark for success, yet we have three states that surround NC and recruit our teachers away that hit that target a year ago – and they’re not done.”

Poston went on to lambaste state leaders for failing to prioritize K-12 education in North Carolina.

From Poston:

“The larger concern we have is not this one proposal, but the fact the overall state budgets passed the last few years do not prioritize public education and that shows up in some of the lowest pay for principals in the country, lack of basic school supplies, fewer Teacher Assistants, and the list goes on. Now we’re facing increased teacher turnover, significant declines in enrollment in our state’s teacher prep programs and a teacher workforce with the 3rd highest rate in the country for working second jobs. If school systems like Chapel Hill-Carrboro cannot fill elementary school teacher vacancies right now as has been reported, the teacher supply crisis is not just looming, it’s already upon us and moving up from 42 to 41 nationally in teacher pay is not going to cut it.”

Members of the N.C. Justice Center have already weighed in on the budget too, with the Budget & Tax Center’s Tazra Mitchell arguing that lawmakers’ insistence on tax cuts is leaving millions unspent on North Carolina’s vital needs. 

Additionally, Alexandra Forter Sirota, director of the Budget & Tax Center, blasted the budget’s modifications to standard deductions as “another poorly targeted tax cut.” 

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