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Spending $500M: School choice for Republican senators, teachers for governor

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(The Center Square) – North Carolina education perspectives at opposite ends of thought do not show signs of meeting in the middle.

Republican lawmakers led the state Senate’s approval of $500 million to erase the waiting list for Opportunity Scholarships on Thursday evening. Gov. Roy Cooper has sought a moratorium.

“This is catastrophic for the hardworking educators who deserve higher pay and the families with children in public schools whose education is threatened by this reckless desire to give a government handout to millionaires,” Cooper said in a release on Friday.

Last summer, North Carolina became the 10th state and first without a government trifecta – meaning, a single party occupying the governor’s office and having majorities in both legislative chambers – to provide school choice statewide. The change released students from attending poor schools just because of their ZIP codes.

Then, the Opportunity Scholarship applications hit record marks. A waiting list of about 55,000 exists. The proposal would allow all to get the school families feel is best for their children.

Cooper is in the last year of his second term and prefers pay raises for teachers. The Democrat’s actions and words do run contrary. During his tenure, he’s vetoed pay raises for teachers calling them paltry and not enough, and he’s stood front and center handing out taxpayer money to businesses with millionaire owners willing to pick a spot between Murphy and Manteo.

For example, in 2019 alone, he vetoed a state budget with teacher pay raises of 4.4% over the biennium. When lawmakers came back with mini-budgets, one had a 3.9% pay raise. He turned that one down, too.

And that when, in the five years from 2014 to 2019, about half of the state’s public school teachers – 44,000 – had received at least a $10,000 raise. Teacher pay in that time was up 20%, passing 18 states.

In September, when lawmakers finally passed the 2024-25 two-year budget, the $60.7 billion plan included $17.3 billion for education in the first year, and $17.9 billion in the second – each more than half of the year’s fiscal spending. Teacher raises are 7% over two years.

Cooper did agree to that budget. Full context is that budget was tied to enabling Medicaid expansion to happen. Teachers, Medicaid and green energy – in no particular order – have long been pawn-like pieces in the Cooper agenda.

Last month, the National Education Association reported teachers nationwide making 5% less than 10 years ago. The national average starting salary for teachers is $44,530 and national average is $69,544.

The NEA puts North Carolina average starting salary at $40,136, 42nd in the nation, and average teacher salary at $56,559, which is 38th nationally. North Carolina is a state without collective bargaining, an element the report notes for higher wages in some states.

Next up for the proposal is House agreement on the bill’s language. If it reaches the desk of Cooper, he would have 10 days to sign, veto, or allow to become law without his signature. Should he issue a veto, each chamber has a three-fifths majority of Republicans that when united and all voting can override him.

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