News: Quick Takes

Cooper teacher pay plan gets skeptical reception at NCGA

RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper on Monday said he has a plan to raise teacher pay, but Republican lawmakers want budget details before they decide whether to get on board.

Cooper’s office hasn’t set a date for the release of his 2017-18 budget, though Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, says he’s looking forward to it.

“After he opposed recent Republican budgets that increased average teacher pay by 15.5 percent, we are pleased Roy Cooper has finally joined legislative efforts to undo the damage of years of Democratic teacher furloughs and teacher pay freezes,” Berger said in a statement.

Legislators last year passed a budget boosting average annual pay to $50,000, with the goal of reaching $54,000 in three years.

Cooper’s plan would raise salaries 10 percent over the next two years, spending an additional $813 million on teacher pay alone. Average salaries would reach close to $55,000 by 2018.

The governor’s proposal gives teachers an annual stipend of $150 to offset classroom expenses.

Tax increases don’t factor into the plan, according to a fact sheet released by Cooper’s office.  

North Carolina’s teacher pay must match the national average, he said.

“These aren’t just investments in our teachers, they are lasting investments in our economy and in our own children’s future. Education is part of North Carolina’s legacy, but recently we’ve fallen behind. My proposal is a serious, multi-year increase in teacher salaries that will get us to the national average so we can show our teachers the respect they deserve.”

But good strategies for teacher pay were under way when Cooper took office, House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said.

“Republicans have made bold and historic commitments to raising teacher pay in North Carolina since 2014, so we’re excited Gov. Cooper wants to join us in that effort. Republicans raised teacher pay while cutting taxes and providing relief to hard-working North Carolinians, so we hope the details of Gov. Cooper’s proposal will mirror our successful approach.”

In a recent research brief, Terry Stoops, the John Locke Foundation’s director of research and education studies, notes that raising teacher pay to an arbitrary numeric average is difficult and perhaps counterproductive.

Average teacher pay calculations, and teacher salary rates generally, depend on three factors — experience, credentials, and school district,” Stoops said.

“Because of the structure of the state salary schedules, inexperienced teachers receive lower pay than more experienced ones, and this has a diluting effect on the overall average. Simply put, as inexperienced teachers become a larger share of the work force, it becomes more difficult to use conventional increases in pay, such as the 4.7 percent average increase approved by the state legislature last year, to raise the overall average,” he added.

Stoops suggests lawmakers focus instead on tying pay increases to performance, and offering incentives to keep the best teachers — not necessarily the most experienced — in the classroom.