Governor Cooper’s Budget Puts Focus on Salaries

The budget proposal released by Gov. Roy Cooper today makes education spending a top priority, but it’s not likely to have much influence in the General Assembly.

Cooper calls for raises for teachers, principals, and assistant principals. He wants to increase textbook spending, add a $150 stipend for teachers to use for school supplies, hire more instructional assistants, and increase funding for pre-kindergarten services.

The General Assembly, however, has taken a more measured approach to education spending in recent years, which has attempted to balance spending growth with increasing teacher salaries and per-pupil spending. These modest spending increases haven’t kept pace with enrollment growth and program expansion needs in the public schools. Both the House and Senate will release their own plans for state spending in the coming weeks with final adoption expected to come in June.

The governor is calling for a 5 percent salary increase each year for two years, which will bring North Carolina’s average teacher salary to the highest in the Southeast in three years, according to Cooper’s budget. If that pace continues, Cooper claims North Carolina’s teacher salary would reach the national average in five years.

While WakeEd fully supports increasing teacher pay, there’s two items of caution. First is the fact that it can be assumed most other states will also increase their teachers’ salaries over the next five years. We would hope the governor has considered this because reaching the national average would require the state to raise its teacher salaries faster than the rest of the states at or below the national average.

Second, is that the national average is not a very good indicator for properly valuing the teaching profession. Paying at least at the national average will make North Carolina look competitive on paper, but being competitive nationally and paying an adequate wage which honors the education and expertise of certified teachers are two different things.

WakeEd is advocating for a teacher salary schedule that is derived from principles similar to those that are used by the private sector when assessing what to pay employees based on experience and responsibility. Businesses don’t look at the national average for a mid-level accountant as the sole indicator for determining salary.

The same approach should be taken as the state is trying to figure out how to increase principal and assistant principal pay. Cooper is proposing a much-needed and very generous 6.5 percent salary increase for principals and assistant principals. In this case, using national average as a bellwether instead of a benchmark, North Carolina school-based administrators have a complex salary schedule that places their pay rate at 50th in the nation. This will help them move out of the basement.

This raise would certainly be welcome since school-based administrators received a 1.5 percent pay increase this school year, which was their first in several years. However, a select committee of representatives and senators studied this issue in the fall of 2016 without any clear resolution to date. Absent any action from the select committee, Cooper’s proposal would be a healthy increase until a comprehensive plan to simplify and increase the administrators’ salary schedule is enacted.

Despite those concerns, the governor’s budget proposal is very good for public education. It sets a high bar for legislators to meet, should they want to, as they prepare their version of the budget.

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