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Wednesday June 29th

Cooper proposes teacher pay raise

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Gov. Roy Cooper announced Monday his plan to take steps to increase average teacher pay without raising taxes.

His new proposal, which is intended to be introduced in his budget plan, will invest $813 million in teachers' salaries with an additional stipend of $150 to each teacher to offset out-of-pocket spending for supplies. 

This proposal would increase salaries more than 10 percent over the next two years, making it the largest two-year investment in North Carolina teachers' pay in the last decade, Cooper said.

"These aren’t just investments in our teachers, they are lasting investments in our economy and in our own children’s future,” Cooper said in a press release.

But President Pro Tempore Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, issued a statement Monday criticizing Cooper for opposing 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," Berger said in the statement. 

Kris Nordstrom, an education policy analyst at the N.C. Justice Center, said Cooper's plan will be heavily scrutinized by the Republicans.

“We are in a very politicized time, and I’m not sure members are going to be willing to help the Democrats win, even if it's for an issue they care about,” he said. 

Former Gov. Pat McCrory had made raising teacher pay one of his central campaign claims, signing his proposed budget of raising the average teacher's pay to $50,000 under a large banner. But by the end of his term, he missed the mark by a little less than $200.

“It’s clear if you look at the math in real time, (the budget) did not contain enough money to bring it about that mark,” Nordstrom said.

Teacher pay relies on a single salary system, where pay is determined by the years of experience each teacher holds and the degree they have obtained, said Eric Houck, a professor in the UNC School of Education. 

He said local districts can raise their own money to pay teachers on top of state salaries, which results in wealthier communities paying teachers more and doesn't allow poor communities to compete in wages.

“Demographically, there's a huge influx of new teachers into the (state) system,” he said.  “Some recent research shows the most common years of experience is zero, it's the mode. And a lot of people stacked at the bottom of the pay scale pulls the pay scale down, lowering teachers' average pay.”

In the 2014-15 school year, North Carolina's average teacher pay ranked 41st nationally, according to a National Education Association report. 

Focusing on average teacher pay obscures the real problems surrounding salaries, Nordstrom said. He said most teachers are making less than $50,000 per year. 

"We are still well behind the national average, and we are even further behind providing teachers the pay required to compete with national industries," Nordstrom said.

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