Senate budget ties teacher raises to dropping tenure rights

Posted May 28, 2014

— Senate leaders used a news conference Wednesday morning to tout what they said would be the most significant pay raise for teachers in North Carolina history, but they did not provide the details of how they would pay for the plan without a tax increase. 

The average salary increase would be $5,809 for teachers, depending on their seniority. 

"This is a significant step in addressing what has been a problem in North Carolina," said Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger.

Low teacher salaries have been a cause for concern across the state, prompting stories about longtime educators moving to other states or changing jobs because of their stagnant pay. The Senate plan, Berger said, would vault North Carolina to "the middle of the pack" in teacher pay nationally and make it third in the Southeast, trailing only Georgia and Louisiana.

The $468 million teacher pay plan is part of the $21 billion budget lawmakers are crafting, and it builds on a proposal floated by Gov. Pat McCrory earlier this year. Senate Republicans revealed only the K-12 education pieces related to teacher pay Wednesday. The rest of the budget is due to be posted online late Wednesday night. After the Senate passes its budget, House leaders will take a stab at crafting a spending plan. 

"The details will be there," said Berger, R-Rockingham, emphasizing that no budget plan would raise taxes. That leaves lawmakers drawing from reserves and making cuts to other parts of the budget in order to pay for the teacher raises. 

"There's lots of places we're looking at," Appropriations Committee Chairman Harry Brown, R-Onslow, said after the news conference. Asked specifically where the money might come from, he said, "We're trying to pull it all together now."

The most likely places from which to draw money would be the University of North Carolina system budget and the state Health and Human Services budget, specifically the costly Medicaid program for the poor and uninsured. Lawmakers could also draw from other ares of the K-12 budget, for example, by cutting back on the number of teaching assistants in early grades. 

"If we got off on that tangent, you think this message would get out," said Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, explaining why budget writers were not revealing other details of the spending plan. "Just believe it, and you'll see it." 

Some teachers could keep tenure

"Our hardworking teachers simply deserve a competitive salary and the ability to make ends meet," Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue said in a statement.

Blue, D-Wake, said the impulse to raise teacher pay was a good one, but he raised questions about where the money might come from.

"It remains to be seen how Senator Berger plans to pay for these raises without dismantling other essential services, given his massive handouts to the wealthy and special interests last year," he said.

Berger repeatedly emphasized what he viewed as the key features of the plan, mostly the size of the potential raises. 

Asked about whether the pay plan would fund fewer teachers, he said, "there may be fewer teachers because we have fewer students." He said the average class size wouldn't increase.

In general, the plan appears to increase teacher pay more rapidly than the current plan, starting teachers with a salary around $32,000 during the first three years and increasing to $50,000 by year 20. After that, the salary schedule plateaus for several years before increasing again in year 30. 

The Senate's education plan repeals a controversial provision in last year's budget that forced school districts to offer pay raises to 25 percent of their teachers in exchange for those teacher giving up career status, what many call tenure. That law is the subject of two different lawsuits, and two judges have already ruled that it is likely unconstitutional.

Under the new proposal, teachers would be able to keep their tenure rights but would not receive any pay bump. Instead, they would be left at their current salaries with no prospect of a raise.

Mark Jewell, vice president of the N.C. Association of Educators, called the tenure trade off "unwarranted," saying teachers should not be asked to give up career protections for more money.

"If there's enough money to give teachers a pay raise, we need to give teachers a pay raise," he said. 

The Senate plan also:

  • extends supplemental pay for teachers with master’s degrees to those who have completed at least one course in a graduate program as of July 1, 2013.
  • expands opportunities for local school systems to reward top teachers by allocating funds for up to 35 percent of teachers to receive pay-for-excellence increases.
  • provides for a $1,000 pay increase for those who work directly for the State Board of Education. 
  • provides funds for pay raises for school administrators.

This blog post is closed for comments.

Newest First
View all
  • Jeremy Gilchrist May 28, 2014
    user avatar

    LOL this should go over well.

  • dlpardue May 28, 2014

    The average worker in North Carolina doesn't have any form of tenure, and many workers have either seen no raise the past several years or have actually went backwards with wage reductions, vacation givebacks and reduction in medical benefits. So tell me again why teachers should retain tenure?

  • Taffy May 28, 2014

    We deserve to lose our teachers to other states like Texas. This shows absolutely no respect to those who teach our children!

  • Joseph Smith May 28, 2014
    user avatar

    Pay raises fro administrators??? How about a 50% reduction in the number of administrators.

  • foodstamptrader May 28, 2014

    Get rid of tenure and pay good teachers well. Why continue the old NEA system of protecting poorly performing and mediocre teachers? Why penalize good teachers to protect the dead wood? Stop making teaching a state employee job bank....

  • Carl Keehn May 28, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    You realize that teacher tenure as defined in North Carolina means that the teacher is entitled to due process prior to being terminated. The alternative is that they are put on a year to year contract and can be terminated simply by not renewing the contract. Are you telling us that the average worker in North Carolina is not entitled to due process, to appeal a termination?

  • hiddentreasurescruecds May 28, 2014

    How are earth are they going to fund a 500 Million dollar pay plan? I'll believe that when I see it.

    The tax overhaul is proving to be a disaster costing NC almost 1/2 a billion dollars in lost revenue so any plan they pass probably won't be funded in the upcoming years anyhow...I suspect they're just trying to get through the midterm elections then all these "raises" will disappear.

  • ++Ajax++ May 28, 2014

    If it's a "right" why should I drop it? duh.

  • Lifeliving May 28, 2014

    Those that have NO idea about tenure. If I (a NC TEACHER) was to defend your child for an action he/she did and the administration did not approve my actions for defending your child...I would get fired without tenure! With tenure I would have to go through a process for defending your child! Learn what you are talking about before knocking tenure! EDUCATE yourself!

  • swimmer518 May 28, 2014

    View quoted thread

    You do know that it's school districts, not the state, that can offer tenure in Texas, right? And surprise, surprise many (if not most) are no longer offering it to new hires.