Cooper, lawmakers find common ground on teacher raises

Eamon Queeney—The North State Journal
Governor Roy Cooper speaks in the old House Chamber of the North Carolina State Capitol building in Raleigh

CHARLOTTE — Gov. Roy Cooper announced this week that his recommended budget will include a 5 percent teacher pay raise each year for the next two years, with the goal of ultimately bringing the average teacher pay to $55,000 by fall of 2018. Cooper said in a press released that the $813 million dollar taxpayer cost could be met without raising taxes. Cooper met with teachers and spoke to media Tuesday at Lynn Road Elementary School in Raleigh.The topic is expected to be one of the areas where the new Democrat Governor Cooper and the Republican-led General Assembly can find some common ground as Republicans work on another year to fulfill a promise started in 2014 to bring teacher salaries up. Republican lawmakers said they are pleased Cooper shares their goal to raise pay for educators.”These aren’t just investments in our teachers, they are lasting investments in our economy and in our own children’s future,” said Cooper. “Education is part of North Carolina’s legacy, but recently we’ve fallen behind. My proposal is a serious, multi-year increase in teacher salaries that will get us to the national average so we can show our teachers the respect they deserve.”The General Assembly started a three-year plan two years ago to raise the average N.C. school teacher pay to $50,000 after years of stagnant teacher salaries. Those raises were an average, designed to bring the starting teacher pay up to the national average, but critics objected to it not being distributed equally to all teachers. Starting teachers and those with 10 years of experience received the biggest bumps. Cooper did not say how the raises would be distributed in his plan, and his figures assumed a 2.68 percent annual increase in local county supplements.”After he opposed recent Republican budgets that increased average teacher pay by 15.5 percent, we are pleased Roy Cooper has finally joined legislative efforts to undo the damage of years of Democratic teacher furloughs and teacher pay freezes. We look forward to reviewing his complete budget proposal,” said Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) in response to Cooper’s announcement.Several lawmakers view budget announcements from the governor’s office with skepticism. They’ve expressed concerned that Cooper’s pick for state budget director is Charles Perusse, who served in the same role for then-Gov. Beverly Purdue. Republicans say Perusse contributed to the state’s economic problems they inherited when taking office in 2011.In 2009, under Purdue with Perusse, the state had a $1 billion budget shortfall, forcing Purdue to order a half-percent pay cut, pay freezes and teachers furloughs. Perusse is now back, directing the state budget under Cooper.Republicans raised teacher pay while cutting taxes and providing relief to hard-working North Carolinians, so we hope the details of Gov. Cooper’s proposal will mirror our successful approach.” House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Kings Mountain).Cooper said his proposal also includes a $150 per teacher stipend for supplies and would make teacher salaries the highest in the Southeast by 2020. The governor traditionally offers his budget recommendations i March for the legislature to consider. The General Assembly appropriations sub-committees are already gearing up, meeting on other proposals.