Cooper offers revised teacher pay raises, hybrid approach to funding school infrastructure needs

Cooper offers revised teacher pay raises, hybrid approach to funding school infrastructure needs

- in Education, Top Story
Gov. Roy Cooper (L) and Senate President Phil Berger (R)

Senate leader slams proposed budget compromise, appears to reject further negotiation

North Carolina teachers would see an average 8.5 percent pay raise by the second year of the biennium under a compromise budget proposal offered by Gov. Roy Cooper on Monday.

Cooper’s compromise would replace the 9.1 percent average increase he proposed in his initial spending plan released in March. His offer also tops the 3.8 percent average increase proposed in the conference budget passed by both legislative chambers.

The average North Carolina teacher salary would increase to $56,897 a year by the second year of the Cooper’s compromise budget.

“Compromise shouldn’t be a dirty word, and we need to work together to provide for North Carolina’s most pressing needs,” Cooper said in a statement.

Cooper vetoed the $24 billion budget crafted primarily by Republican lawmakers on June 27, contending it “doesn’t move us forward” particularly in the areas of school construction, tax cuts and Medicaid expansion.

“I want to sign a budget that will move us forward,” Cooper said at a press conference where he announced he would veto the conference budget.

Cooper’s vetoes carry weight this year because Republicans have lost veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate and need help from Democrats to override his them.

On Tuesday, Sen. President Pro Tem Phil Berger voiced frustration at the prospect of protracted budget negotiations.

“The time for Governor Cooper to talk about the budget was last month, when I personally handed him my opening offers on nearly all of the priorities he discussed today and asked for a counter offer,” Berger said. “He refused to give one and instead blocked teacher and state employee raises, rape kit testing, and school construction funding over his Medicaid ultimatum.”

Berger went on to criticize Cooper for holding the budget “hostage over Medicaid expansion.”

“If a veto override fails, we have a spending plan based on last year’s appropriations,” Berger said. “At that point, the Governor can explain to voters why he blocked $24 billion over one policy disagreement.”

Medicaid expansion became a priority of the North Carolina Association of Education (NCAE) in the spring as the teacher organization planned to march through downtown Raleigh to demand increased funding for public schools.

The NCAE contends the overall health and well-being of families have a direct correlation to how well a child grows in the classroom.

As was the case with his initial budget proposal, Cooper’s compromise funds extra pay for teachers with master’s degrees, pays substitutes so teachers don’t have to pay them out of pocket, supports National Board certification and improves recruitment of diverse teachers.

The NCAE applauded the proposal.

Mark Jewell

“With real investment through equitable raises for educators, serious consideration of instructional needs, and a robust approach to the wellness of students and their families, this is the kind of budget that will not only start moving public education in the right direction, but the state as a whole,” NCAE President Mark Jewell said. “We hope this will be well received by leaders in the General Assembly and will be given serious and thoughtful consideration.”

Comparisons of the governor’s teacher pay recommendations, his compromise proposal and conference budget adopted by both legislative chambers can be viewed by clicking here.

Cooper offered a hybrid solution to pay for school construction and renovations.

The governor originally supported a $3.9 billion bond referendum.

But his compromise plan calls for pairing a smaller, $3.5 billion bond with a retooled, “pay-as-you-go” scheme endorsed by the state’s Republican leadership.

The GOP wants to pay for school construction projects using the State Capital and Infrastructure Fund (SCIF).

Republican leaders contend the SCIF, funded with four percent of state revenue, could raise $2 billion for K-12 school projects quicker and cheaper than a bond referendum.

State Sen. Harry Brown (R-Onslow) has said using the SCIF instead of a bond referendum to pay for school construction projects could save North Carolina $1.2 billion over 30 years.

Cooper’s compromise plan would reduce the SCIF to one percent of state revenue. All capital projects in the Republican conference budget and the Governor’s bond proposal would remain in the spending plan.

Cooper has argued that using the SCIF to pay for school construction projects would siphon money from other budget needs such as improving school safety, raising teacher salaries, and purchasing textbooks and other instructional supplies.

The SCIF was created in 2017 to pay interest payments on existing debt and fund capital improvements to state-owned buildings.

The House K-12 Education Committee was scheduled to take up Senate Bill 5 on Tuesday, which would authorize the use of SCIF funds to pay for school construction and renovations.

The committee meeting was cancelled about one hour before it was scheduled to take place. It has been rescheduled for today at 11:00 a.m.

Click here to view a comparison of the governor’s bond proposal and the GOP’s SCIF plan.