Gov. Roy Cooper's new budget proposal places a heavy emphasis on education spending.
Aiming to make North Carolina a leader in education, Cooper’s proposal calls for increasing teacher pay by an average of five percent over the next two years and offering a $150 school supply stipend for teachers. While campaigning last year, increasing teacher pay was a key part of Cooper’s platform.
“If we’re going to value education, if we’re going to value teachers, they need to be paid as professionals,” said Pope McCorkle, associate professor of the practice of public policy.
Cooper has stated that no new taxes would be required to pay for his teacher pay increase, which would cost approximately $813 million over two years. Instead, previously promised tax cuts may not materialize as the state's budget surplus is directed to paying for the proposal.
Calling Cooper’s plan reasonable, Hugh Macartney, assistant professor of economics, said he is optimistic about the potential increase in teacher pay.
Macartney listed several reasons that North Carolina ranks behind other states in teacher pay. For one, unlike teachers in other states, North Carolina does not allow teachers to unionize and bargain for their wages.
“There’s an old law on the books which precludes collective bargaining between public sector workers and state or municipal governments," Macartney said. "While there are teacher organizations, they are not the same as you would see in those states with strong unions.”
Another factor affecting North Carolina teacher pay is the source of the state's education spending, Macartney said.
“Education funding is more centralized in North Carolina, relative to some other states in which municipal property taxes play a greater role," Macartney said. "There may be a diminished appetite on the part of voters for funding increases under greater redistribution."
The state budget provides fixed teacher allotments to school districts. Many urban districts use local taxes to supplement teacher pay and hire additional teachers and support staff.
McCorkle—a former Democratic strategist—said teacher pay had not been a priority in recent years. He also had noted that Cooper's proposal may not pass the Republican-dominated legislature.
"Given the Republican supermajority and their unwillingness to reach across the aisle and work with Gov. Cooper, [the proposal] probably won’t pass without amendment," McCorkle said.
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Macartney emphasized that increased teacher pay is often associated with higher education quality, because schools are able to retain and attract high quality teachers.
However, he noted that there is a difference between whether the increase in pay would be used toward teachers’ base pay or would take into account their total salary.
“There’s a base salary that every teacher receives,” Macartney said. “Each teacher then receives a premium based on her additional years of experience, professional development and education."
If Cooper’s proposal does intend for a five percent increase in teachers’ base salaries rather than their total salaries, the plan would favor younger, less-experienced teachers.
“As a proportion of their total income, it’s going to be smaller for more experienced teachers,” Macartney said.