Governor proposes teacher raises, retention bonuses



(The Center Square) – North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper on Wednesday called for the state legislature to give teachers 8.5% pay raises and a $1,500 retention bonus.

Cooper also calls for a moratorium on using public money for private school vouchers and for redirecting those funds to public schools. He called his budget proposal “Securing North Carolina’s Future” and presented it on the day the Legislature returned for the beginning of its short session.

Cooper’s fiscal plan also includes funding for improving the state’s drinking water and child care and economic development.

“As the No. 1 state to do business in the country for two years in a row, we have the formula for success in our high-quality public schools, talented workforce and thriving economy,” Cooper said. “We must make targeted investments strengthening public education, boosting economic development, and protecting our natural resources to secure a bright future for North Carolina.”

Sen. Phil Berger, the President Pro Tempore of the chamber, said lawmakers are willing to consider pay raises not only for teachers but other state employees. He also said Cooper’s proposal is not surprising and harkens to the day when Democrats, prior to the 2010 midterms, had majorities in the General Assembly and occupied the governor’s mansion.

Back then, he said, the fiscal plan was to tax and spend. “And you see what happened,” he said.

More than 45% of registered voters were Democrats, Republicans won majorities in both chambers in 2010, and the state’s operating deficit that had caused teachers to be furloughed was changed by GOP policies that grew revenue and reserves.

The state currently has a $1.4 billion budget surplus, according to the legislature’s Fiscal Budget Office. New state revenue projections are forecasting an extra $413 million in the current fiscal year and an extra $1 billion in 2024-25.

The economy “has performed better than expected since May 2023,” the budget office said. There is a strong labor market, higher wages and increased tax collections, it said.

Under Cooper’s proposal starting teachers would earn more than $47,500, counting local and state supplement, which would be the highest of any state in the Southeast, the governor said.

It would impose a moratorium on taxpayer-funded private school vouchers that “lack accountability and reprioritizes those funds to public schools,” Cooper said in a statement.

Under the voucher program, students in grades K-12 can apply for private school scholarships ranging from $3,000 to $7,000 depending on the student’s family, according to the state.

“The Legislature plans to spend more than $4 billion over the next decade in taxpayer funding on vouchers for unaccountable and unregulated private schools,” Cooper said. “This is the wrong choice.”

Nathan Sanders, policy and advocacy director of EdChoice, a national nonprofit group promoting school choice, noted that there is currently a waiting list for the private school vouchers in North Carolina.

“That’s a great indicator that this program is very popular and that there is obviously a need that parents are searching for,” he said.

The private schools are accountable because parents can always leave and enroll their children in other schools if the private school’s performance is not suitable, Sanders added.

“Ultimately, the accountability falls on the parents,” he said. “If parents are happy with these kids and are not taking their kids out, that’s part of the accountability. The public schools are having to compete because parents have opportunities to choose these private schools.”

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