Gov. Cooper signs teacher pay bonus bill, step increases

Cooper vetoed two attempts in 2019 by Republican lawmakers to give teachers raises

Governor Roy Cooper speaks during a press briefing on the COVID-19 virus at the Emergency Operations Center on Thursday, June 18, 2020 in Raleigh, N.C. Photo via N.C. Dept of Public Safety

RALEIGH — After twice vetoing teacher pay raises in 2019, Gov. Roy Cooper has signed a bill that will give a one-time bonus to teachers and includes an increase in step pay.

Senate Bill 818 gives all teachers and instructional support personnel one-time, $350 bonuses to be paid out by Oct. 31. Teachers will also see step-increases, which are pay scale levels based on experience and longevity. For most teachers, that step-increase will be $1,000.

The assignment of bonuses is usually determined by student performance; however, that data is incomplete because the schools closed in March due to COVID-19. As a result, the bill awards each teacher the same size bonus.

“I signed this bill because it funds step increases for teachers that have already been promised, but it falls outrageously short on raises we need to give teachers and all school personnel like bus drivers and cafeteria workers,” Cooper said in a press release.

The bill also “encourages the governor to allocate funds from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund to provide a one-time, lump sum bonus of six hundred dollars ($600.00)” for additional raises for teachers and other school personnel.

These additional funds would draw from COVID-19 relief funds, of which North Carolina has been allotted $95,638,869. Cooper indicated he does not believe the relief money can be used that way; however, the letter sent to governors that accompanied the funding seems to indicate the governor can spend it as he sees fit.

“This extraordinarily flexible emergency block grant empowers you to decide how best to meet the current needs of students, schools (including charter schools and non-public schools), postsecondary institutions, and other education-related organizations in your State so that faculty continue to teach and students continue to learn,” reads the letter from U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

The corresponding FAQ for the Governor’s Education Emergency Relief Fund does mention continued payment of employees but does not specifically mention raises in compensation or the prohibition of them. The application for the funds provided by the Cooper Administration to the U.S. Dept. of Education does not mention raises in employee compensation.

Despite a budget shortfall estimated at $5 billion due to COVID-19, Democrats pushed for amendments that included a one-time bonus of $1,250 for teachers and a $1,000 bonus to non-instructional employees.

North Carolina’s average teacher pay increase ranking jumped from 47th in the country to 29th since Republicans took over the majority at the General Assembly. The average teacher pay in 2013-14 was $44,990. By 2019-20, that pay average had jumped to $55,600 according to House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Kings Mountain).

Between the 2014-15 and 2018-19 legislative years, the combined teacher-pay increases passed by the General Assembly comes to just over 25%. Those increases include 7.0% in 2014-15, 3.8% in 2015-16, 4.7% in 2016-17, 3.3% in 2017-18 and 6.5% in 2018-19. Each year’s raises were opposed by Senate Democrats.

Under Republican control, education spending by the state has increased cumulatively by around $9 billion since 2013. Teacher pay in North Carolina is currently the second highest in the southeast and per-pupil spending has risen by 14%.

Teachers were the only segment of state employees in 2019 to not receive a raise after the governor vetoed both the budget bill and a stand-alone pay-increase bill.

On July 9, Cooper dropped his original teacher pay offer from 9% to 8.5% over the next two years contingent on the passage of Medicaid expansion, which Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) said did not have the votes to pass.

The standoff continued into the fall, when the General Assembly countered the governor’s offer with Senate Bill 354, which allotted teacher pay raises that came within half of a percent of Cooper’s July compromise offer. Senate Democrats refused, voting down the Senate Bill 354 along party lines. The governor vetoed the bill one week later, calling the raises “paltry.”

Berger said during a press conference that Senate Democrats had informed him that they all plan to sustain Cooper’s veto of the budget. Berger said, “It’s clear that unless Cooper gives them the green light, they will not agree to an override.”

About A.P. Dillon 1127 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_