Gov. Roy Cooper argued for higher teacher pay in a Charlotte visit Wednesday as Republican leaders claimed credit for advancing North Carolina several notches in a national pay ranking.
Cooper visited UNC Charlotte science labs in need of renovation and Charlotte Teacher Early College, a partnership of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and UNCC that prepares high school students for education careers.
The Democratic governor’s stop came a week after he proposed a 9.1 percent average increase in teacher pay over two years and $3.9 billion bond referendum for renovation and construction of schools and other infrastructure.
It also came a day after North Carolina’s national pay ranking rose, at least by one measure.
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A National Education Association report said the state ranks 29th in the nation in average teacher pay, up five spots from its 2017-18 ranking. NEA ranked North Carolina 47th as recently as 2013, when the nation was recovering from a deep recession.
Republican leaders were quick to claim credit for the improvement, citing five consecutive pay raises for teachers. Nearly half of the state’s teachers have received raises of at least $10,000 since 2013 while average pay rose 19 percent or $8,600, House Speaker Tim Moore’s office said Wednesday.
“Moving up 18 spots in national teacher pay rankings is a remarkable turnaround for our educators, and I’m proud of my House colleagues for their commitment to rewarding teachers for the incredible impact they have on our students and communities,” Moore said in a statement.
Cooper acknowledged the raises during his UNCC visit but said legislators had largely ignored veteran teachers in boosting starting salaries for beginning teachers.
His plan reverses some pay limitations imposed by legislators in recent years, restoring pay increases for veteran teachers and extra pay for teachers with master’s degrees. Apart from the $3.9 billion in bonds, he also advocates more spending for teacher recruitment, professional development and school safety measures.
“We need to be to the national average (and) we certainly need to be number one in the Southeast,” Cooper told reporters, adding that North Carolina would reach that point in four years under his plan.
“It’s important in lifting that level of respect for this profession that we put a strong teacher salary scale in place to keep these young people interested in wanting to be teachers,” he added. “We trust these teachers to educate our children — let’s put our money where our trust is and make sure that we’ve got the kind of teachers that we want our kids to have and the kinds of principals that can lead these schools to new heights.”
Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said the average salaries reported by the NEA are skewed because they include bonuses, higher pay for teachers with advanced degrees and local supplements that most educators don’t receive.
“That money goes to a few, not to the many,” Jewell said. The North Carolina average cited by NEA, $53,975, is well above the state’s teacher salary cap of $52,000, he added.
Many of the state’s teachers have actually lost purchasing power since the recession, because of inflation, he said. And North Carolina’s teachers are paid well below the national average salary of nearly $62,000 cited by the NEA.
The NCAE supports Cooper’s pay plan, Jewell said, because “everybody will feel a significant pay increase with his plan.”
Fulltime Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools teachers made an average of $52,122 last year, including stipends and bonuses, The Observer reported last May.
State Superintendent Mark Johnson has proposed raises of 5 to 7 percent for all teachers and more pay for those who take on advanced teaching roles, such as by earning master’s degrees.
“Five percent for him would be a floor,” said Drew Elliot, the Department of Public Instruction’s communications director. “We have the luxury of a strong economy. That’s good for the ability to raise pay, but it also means that we must raise pay to stay competitive” with other states.