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Teacher raises, school support workers, infrastructure headline Gov. Cooper’s education budget

Gov. Roy Cooper

North Carolina teacher pay could reach the national average in four years if state lawmakers approved his newly-unveiled budget proposal, Gov. Roy Cooper’s office said Thursday.

Cooper, a Democrat, announced the details of his second proposed budget just days before more than 10,000 teachers are expected to rally in Raleigh, coinciding with the return of the N.C. General Assembly to session.

“My budget starts with public education because schools are the focal point of success,” Cooper said. “A quality teacher in every classroom and a quality principal in every school make for great public schools. They shouldn’t have to take to the streets to get the respect they deserve.”

The governor’s plan sets aside $98.7 million for teacher raises, guaranteeing at least a 5 percent raise for all teachers in 2018-2019, Cooper said. The new investment would come on top of $270 million already budgeted for teacher raises. According to his office, his plan would allow average teacher pay to meet the national average—which is projected to exceed $60,000 this year—in four years.

Cooper’s budget would also restructure the teacher salary schedule, creating an annual step salary plan that was discarded by legislators after the aughts. Today, the state’s salary schedule tops out at 25 years of experience and includes plateaus at various levels.

Teacher advocates have been critical of the salary scale’s structure, pointing out as well that recent pay raises approved by lawmakers slighted the state’s most experienced teachers.

NCAE President Mark Jewell

The N.C. Association of Educators, which advocates for teachers at the General Assembly, commended Cooper’s plan.

“Governor Cooper makes students, educators, and families a priority in this proposed budget,” said NCAE President Mark Jewell in a statement. “His plan puts more textbooks in the hands of our students, enhances the well-being of our students with more school nurses, social workers, and counselors, and puts us back on track to get educator pay and per-pupil funding to the national average.”

Cooper’s budget will inspire public school advocates, but is unlikely to move the Republican-controlled state legislature, which rebuffed Cooper’s spending plan last year.

Lawmakers say they’ve already agreed on a spending goal for the upcoming budget as they return for their “short” session next week, a step that should speed a process that’s often broken down on major differences between the House and Senate plans.

Cooper’s plan would also spend another $11.3 million on a new principal salary schedule that offers annual step increases and offers a supplement based on school size. Lawmakers began re-configuring the principal salary structure in recent years after principal pay descended to the bottom of the nation in national rankings.

Other key items of note:

  • Cooper’s budget would spend $75 million in lottery cash to assist local districts in meeting facility needs spurred by lawmakers’ order to slash elementary class sizes. While legislators alleviated many of districts’ concerns about the controversial class size mandate this year, Cooper and school district leaders complained that the legislature’s resolution offered no aid for districts that would need new classroom space.
  • The plan would allocate $40 million to districts to meet a much-bemoaned shortage of school nurses, counselors, psychologists and social workers in school districts.
  • Another $10 million would be spent hiring new school resource officers, a boon to those who want to see more secure schools after a deadly Florida school shooting sparked new calls for reforms this year. It’s not likely to please everyone. Policy Watch wrote about myriad concerns with increased SRO presence in schools, including the school-to-prison pipeline and the criminalization of school discipline.
  • The plan would allocate $25 million to boost funding for textbooks and digital resources. This is a top priority for school district leaders who say state funding in these areas has fallen woefully behind since the recession.
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