Education budgets are the viscera of state campaigns, and attention to spending will be heightened in this legislative session as Gov. Pat McCrory heads into what seems a close race with Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper.
Teacher raises always draw the most attention, and McCrory already has laid out his plan for an average raise of 5 percent, which would increase average teacher pay to about $50,000 a year.
Also in his plan are bonuses ranging from $1,100 to $5,000, with the biggest bonuses going to teachers with more than 24 years experience.
McCrory is proposing an overhaul of the teacher pay schedule that gets rid of the salary tiers the legislature put in place two years ago and allows teachers’ base salary to increase each year until the 21st year.
Base salaries would be capped at $50,000 a year, as they are now, but teachers would hit that ceiling at 20 years rather than 25.
Teachers with 25 years experience or more would get $5,000 bonuses this year, but no raises.
The salary schedule was developed with attention to recharging the teacher pipeline and keeping early-career teachers in the profession, said Catherine Triutt, McCrory’s senior education adviser.
Superintendents are having trouble recruiting teachers, she said. “That says to me we need to get the teacher pay average up so we can be competitive in the Southeast.”
Although the House and Senate want teacher raises, too, legislators have not pitched any plans as specific as McCrory’s and have not endorsed his idea.
Senate leader Phil Berger last week said that a $50,000 average was a good target, but he indicated the legislature may not reach it this year.
The issue has the potential to frustrate budget writers. Two years ago, the tangle over the size of teacher raises helped delay a final deal and had McCrory threatening a budget veto.
While raises draw most of the attention, education advocates and some legislators are interested in tackling more complex problems: attracting talented people to the teaching profession, helping low-performing schools, and training and attracting good principals to struggling schools.
Two special House committees met during the break between sessions to consider education topics. One took a broad look at strategies; the other focused on establishing an Achievement School District, where the state would have charter school companies run up to five low-performing schools.
“Salary increase, yes, but there needs to be some other things associated with that,” said Craig Horn, a Weddington Republican who helps lead the House Education Committee and its education budget subcommittee. Horn wants to consider some system of extra pay for teachers who work in hard-to-staff schools or who specialize in subjects such as high school mathematics, where teacher shortages are widespread.
The legislature also will consider K-12 proposals:
▪ on vouchers – proponents want more, and critics want limits;
▪ to set up a scholarship program for college students who want to be teachers;
▪ to prevent the public from knowing how much individual teachers make;
▪ to have the public schools send more of the money they get to charter schools;
▪ to support principal training programs.
“I think we all agree that leadership is the key to organizational success,” Horn said.