Gov. Roy Cooper’s two-year budget proposal would give teachers an average pay raise of 9.1 percent over two years, with no teacher receiving less than a 3 percent raise in either year.

Cooper announced his $25.2 billion General Fund budget proposal Wednesday, March 6. In it, he recommends restoring pay bumps for teachers with a master’s degree in the subject they teach and suggests experience-based raises for school principals. Restoring master pay would cost the state $6.8 million in recurring funds.

Spending for all education programs, including higher ed, totals $14.56 billion, the largest share of the General Fund budget — 57.75 percent. The $23.9-billion budget enacted last year by the General Assembly spent a similar percentage on education, $13.8 billion.

The governor’s budget recommends spending nearly $210 million for teacher pay raises in fiscal 2019-20 and $390 million in fiscal 2020-21. Cooper said the state must do more to attract and keep good educators.

“There is strong bipartisan agreement that a strong teacher in every classroom and a strong principal in every school can make North Carolina great,” Cooper said. “If we are going to trust them to educate our children, we have to put our money where our trust is.”

Cooper said it’s time to end the practice of requiring teachers to pay for their own substitutes when they take a personal leave day. Ending this practice carries a $6.5 million price annual price tag, but it’s one worth paying, he said.

“NCAE applauds Governor Cooper for his actions to appropriately pay all educators like the professionals they are, and for his commitment to raise salaries not only for beginning teachers, but for veteran educators as well,” Mark Jewell, executive director of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said in a news release.

In addition, Cooper’s budget calls for:

  • $29 million in new funding for schools to buy more textbooks, digital resources, instructional supplies, and for enhanced digital learning opportunities
  • $15 million for school safety improvements and training
  • $40 million to hire school nurses, social workers, counselors, school psychologists, and school resource officers
  • $9 million to recruit, retain, and support educators by expanding the Teaching Fellows scholarship program, helping teachers become national board certified, expanding the Advanced Teaching Roles pilot, and more
  • More than $5 million for teacher professional development
  • $4.7 million for the Regional Support Model to support local school systems

Cooper recommended a $3.9 billion bond proposal for schools and water systems, even though a $1.9 billion statewide school bond bill is making its way through the General Assembly. Of that $3.9 billion, $2 billion would go to funding construction and renovation of K-12 public schools. North Carolina’s Community College System and the University of North Carolina System would each get $500 million. The bond would invest $800 million to repair water and sewer infrastructure, and the reminding $100 million would go to the N.C. Museum of History and the N.C. Zoo.

Joe Coletti, John Locke Foundation senior fellow, said Cooper’s budget proposal is unrealistic.

“His $3.9 billion bond proposal is twice as large as anything else under discussion,” Coletti said. “Its budget impact would not be felt until after the next election.”

Republican lawmakers are also skeptical of Cooper’s proposal. Rep. Jason Saine, R-Lincoln, a senior House Appropriations Committee co-chair, said in a statement the governor should submit a revised proposal that balances the budget.

“I didn’t think Governor Cooper’s budget proposals could put the state in graver financial danger than the $500 million deficit he proposed last year, but this year’s recommendation to borrow more than double our consensus debt capacity does just that,” Saine said.

“The governor’s budget proposal threatens our unanimous AAA credit rating, revenue surpluses, savings reserves, and tax relief for families,” Rep. Linda Johnson, R-Cabarrus, a senior House Appropriations Committee co-chair, said in a released statement.

Once again the governor recommends phasing out the Opportunity Scholarship program. Cooper’s budget would fund existing obligations for the program, but the budget wouldn’t allocate money for future scholarships.

Mike Long, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, said Cooper’s recommendation to stop future funding of the Opportunity Scholarship program is disappointing yet not surprising.

“What is Governor Cooper’s message to the thousands of new families applying for the Opportunity Scholarship?” Long said in an emailed statement. “It tells them he is not interested in making real investments in their families and children for a determined North Carolina, but instead the governor is determined to protect the education establishment over them.”