Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, R-Wilkes, said one of his teaching colleagues inadvertently took a pay cut. 

Elmore is the House Education K-12 Committee co-chairman and the only public school teacher in the General Assembly. He said Thursday, Oct. 31, his friend increased the contributions to her retirement account, anticipating pay increases the General Assembly had passed in the 2019-20 General Fund budget. 

But Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the budget, and the pay hikes didn’t kick in. Elmore’s friend has seen her take-home pay go down.

Elmore relayed this story and others about his classroom colleagues during debate over Senate Bill 354, a mini-budget raising pay for K-12 teachers, non-classroom employees, and university and community college workers. He noted the delay marks the first pay freeze classroom teachers have experienced since the Great Recession.

The bill outlines a 3.9% pay raise over the biennium for teachers, and a 2% pay raise for non-instructional school support staff. Veteran teachers get a $500 bonus for each year of the budget cycle.

Elmore said the pay hike would have an impact. It might be enough for a new car payment or repairs on a home.

S.B. 354 passed the Senate with little debate, 28-21. The House vote was 62-46. The vote largely followed party lines. But the tone in that chamber was much feistier.

Teachers would see a 4.4% pay raise over the biennium if the Senate votes to override the budget veto. University of North Carolina System and N.C. Community College employees would get a 4% raise over the biennium. Non-instructional school support staff would get a 4% pay raise over the biennium, plus a 0.5% bonus.

In part, House Democrats objected to the provisions boosting raises if the full budget becomes law. The move to tie higher pay raises to the veto override led Cooper to call Republicans kidnappers and claim they are holding teacher pay hostage. 

Republican lawmakers fired back.

“Nobody believes the governor’s cheap rhetoric about teacher pay anymore. He has yet another opportunity to sign or veto a teacher raise,” Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, said in a news release following the Senate vote.

House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, made the rare move of introducing the debate from the House floor — a tactic usually reserved for bills the leaders consider consequential. 

“These are great investments that we are making for our hard-working folks who are in public education,” Moore said.

After Moore spelled out the details in the measure, noting several times it would increase spending by more than $250 million, the House debate grew fiery.

House Democrats weren’t satisfied with the numbers. Some called the move to tie higher teacher pay raises with the veto override a political gimmick.

Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, struck a nerve by suggesting Democrats secretly supported the pay raises but voted against the bill because they feared defying Cooper.

A few Democrats bristled at Speciale’s talk.

House Minority Leader Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, said the raises don’t go far enough, especially for bus drivers, janitors, and cafeteria workers. 

Jackson said the General Assembly should aim to invest in public education over corporate tax cuts.

Despite most House Democrats criticizing the conference report, a few did vote for S.B. 354. 

Rep. Billy Richardson, D-Cumberland, voted for the bill, though he said the General Assembly needs to focus on fixing the teacher pay system. He said it’s time to pay teachers a professional wage, bring back the teacher fellows, and pay extra for master’s degrees. 

“These are real results — not rhetoric — that required smart long-term financial management of our state budget,” Moore said in a news release following the House vote. “I’m proud of my colleagues that their efforts continue to reward educators who make a difference in the lives of North Carolina students every day.”