Jamestown, N.C. — Gov. Pat McCrory and top legislative leaders said Monday that they have hammered out an agreement to raise starting salaries for North Carolina public school teachers by almost 14 percent over the next two years.
The proposal would lift the base pay for new teachers from $30,800 to $35,000 by the 2015-16 school year, including a $2,200 raise this fall, followed by another $2,000 next year.
McCrory said the $176 million needed to pay for the increase would come from existing revenue, and no tax increase would be needed to fund it.
"It's about time we start showing respect for our teachers," he said during a news conference at his alma mater, Ragsdale High School in Jamestown. "For the past six years or so, North Carolina has not made the needed investments in its teachers."
The increase would affect about 42,000 teachers statewide and would move North Carolina past South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia in starting teacher salaries, McCrory said. It also would make the state more competitive with other states in trying to attract and retain the best teachers.
"We're still looking for more money for all of our teachers," he said, adding that other state workers also would receive raises this year as the budget permits.
Democrats and long-time teachers quickly criticized McCrory's announcement, saying all teachers should be paid more, not just those starting out in the state's classrooms.
"As a 20-year veteran, am I important?" said Elizabeth Foster, a special education teacher in Guilford County. "I’m afraid I’m going to get a lot of phone calls from colleagues saying, 'What about me?'"
House Minority Leader Larry Hall said the base pay increase "falls remarkably short," while Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt called the news conference "a celebratory, election-year rally."
“All teachers in North Carolina are responsible for preparing our children to be successful, and all teachers deserve to be paid like the professionals they are," Hall said in a statement. "We need a dedicated plan to raise teacher pay to the national average so we can attract and retain the very best teachers."
"We didn’t see a plan to raise teacher salaries to the national average. We didn’t see a plan to make North Carolina competitive with states like Virginia that are actively recruiting our best educators. We didn’t see a plan to ensure that our students are prepared for today’s workforce," Nesbitt said in a statement.
Teachers have gotten only one across-the-board state salary increase in the past six years, and North Carolina ranks among the lowest states nationwide in terms of average teacher salary.
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, who joined McCrory for the announcement, along with House Speaker Thom Tillis and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, said lawmakers hope to provide raises to more teachers beyond the base pay increase, but it's too early to see how the state budget will shape up next year.
"We’re doing what we think we have the capacity to do," Berger said. "It would be foolish of us to make a promise we can’t keep and take a step we’d ultimately have to back track on."
Rene Herrick, a Wake County teacher who serves on McCrory's panel of teacher advisers, said the panel backs across-the-board pay increases for teachers.
"We want the entire teaching profession to be rewarded," Herrick said. "We look to our veteran teachers for their knowledge, their experience."
McCrory said lawmakers would be rolling out more proposals for teacher pay in the coming months, but he declined to say what they could involve. Last month, he suggested market-based salaries that would pay teachers more in competitive fields, such as science and math.
"This is just the first step," he said of the increase in base pay.
Many of the state's public school teachers remain incensed over actions the General Assembly took last year, such as creating a voucher program that shifts some state education money to private schools, ending tenure rights for veteran teachers and eliminating the supplement for teachers who earn advanced degrees.
Berger said lawmakers would amend that last piece of legislation this year so that anyone who has already started work on a master's or doctoral degree will get the pay bump once they earn the degree.
Tillis said lawmakers "reassessed" and determined that they made a mistake on depriving teachers already in the process of earning a degree of the increase.