Teacher raises highlight Senate’s FY17 budget; compromise with House on deck | Crain's Raleigh Durham

Teacher raises highlight Senate’s FY17 budget; compromise with House on deck

A view from the balcony into the North Carolina Senate chamber. Photo by Gerry Dincher.

Now that the North Carolina Senate has approved its version of the state budget for the next fiscal year, its members will iron out differences with the House version. But by almost any reckoning, the state's teachers will soon get fatter pay envelopes.

The $22.2 billion spending plan was adopted just after midnight June 3 on a 26-13 vote, with several Senate members absent. Senate Leader Phil Berger, a Rockingham Republican, said budget highlights included “dramatic” increases to teacher pay, middle-class tax cuts and an increase to the state’s “rainy day” fund.

“This fiscally responsible budget ... includes a plan to raise average teacher pay to $55,000, ensuring tuition does not increase at public universities during a student’s four years in college, and making a generous investment in public education, transportation and other core priorities,” Berger said. But Senate Democrats, who voted against the budget as proposed along party lines, argued that many budget items were misprioritized, specifically taking issue with nearly $35 million being appropriated in "aid to private institutions" according to the budget, or private-school vouchers, according to Democrats.

Senators will now meet with members of the N.C. House, who approved their version of the budget last month, to resolve differences in their respective budgets, the most prominent of which includes methods to calculate and implement raises for teachers.

In May, Gov. Pat McCrory said he wanted to see North Carolina teacher salaries - which currently rank 41st in the nation, according to the N.C. Association of Educators - hit an average of at least $50,000. McCrory submitted his teacher pay proposal to Senate and House budget writers to be included in deliberations. The Senate took note, with increases as high as 7.5 percent included in its budget, planned to take effect July 1.

As written in the Senate budget, the plan for teacher pay increases would bump average teacher pay to $55,000 within two years. If approved, the average salary would be the highest in the state’s history, according to Berger’s camp. “If the proposal becomes law, average teacher pay will be up almost $10,000, more than 20 percent, since the 2013-214 school year,” Berger said in a statement. “And it launches a pilot program that will reward the top 25 percent of third-grade reading teachers with bonuses of up to $6,800 for outstanding performance.”

The National Education Association released its annual rankings for teacher pay and per-pupil spending in mid-May. The report projects North Carolina will rank 41st in average teacher pay and 44th in per-pupil spending next year, according to the state NEA chapter.

“Being in the bottom 10 in the nation on investing in our public school students and educators is unacceptable,” NCAE President Rodney Ellis said. “We have dangerously high teacher turnover rates and dangerously low enrollment in teacher training programs. Instead of using a surplus budget for more tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, we should be investing in our public school students, educators and schools.”

The McCrory administration, however, using the same ranking from the NEA, focused on the progress in teacher salary increases the state has made since he took office in 2012.

“Under Gov. McCrory’s leadership, North Carolina teacher pay has increased faster than any other state in the country,” said Catherine Truitt,  McCrory’s senior education advisor. “We must continue this trend of improvement and adopt the governor’s strategic plan to raise average teacher pay to $50,000 plus benefits in order to make up for ground lost under previous governors to attract, retain and reward the best teachers.”

According to the amended budget document approved June 3, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction will receive $277.2 million, while the state’s community college network was awarded $16.1 million. The state’s university system, administered through the University of North Carolina Board of Governors, will get $121.1 million.

Berger said the Senate’s budget makes college “far more affordable and accessible” to North Carolina students by ensuring there are no in-state tuition increases for undergraduate programs in North Carolina’s public university system.

June 3, 2016 - 2:31pm