Senate would give veteran teachers $250 raise over 2 years. Is it a ‘slap in the face’?

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North Carolina’s most experienced teachers are expressing frustration that they could receive state raises of as little as $250 over the next two years.

Senate and House Republicans are negotiating a deal on a a budget for the next two years, including how much to spend on education and raises for teachers. The budget adopted by the Senate provides a $200 raise this year and a $50 raise next year for teachers who have more than 15 years of experience.

“They don’t want experienced folks to stay,” Kim Mackey, a social studies teacher at Green Hope High School in Cary, said in an interview. “They don’t want to pay us, but many of us love teaching. It’s just the state expects us to make a personal sacrifice to do what we want to do.”

Senate GOP leaders say the state has a greater need attracting and retaining new teachers.

“The feedback we receive on teacher pay often focuses on beginning teacher salaries and turnover,” Randy Brechbiel, a spokesman for Senate leader Phil Berger, said in a statement. “The Senate budget addresses this head-on by including considerable raises for starting teacher pay, which would help attract new, qualified candidates and keep them on board.”

But Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has cited the Senate’s small raises for experienced teachers in his declaration this month of a “state of emergency” for public schools.

Gov. Roy Cooper visits a fourth-grade class while touring Washington Magnet Elementary School in Raleigh Tuesday, May 23, 2023. Cooper says state lawmakers would ‘starve’ public education with universal private school vouchers, more tax cuts and small raises for veteran teachers.
Gov. Roy Cooper visits a fourth-grade class while touring Washington Magnet Elementary School in Raleigh Tuesday, May 23, 2023. Cooper says state lawmakers would ‘starve’ public education with universal private school vouchers, more tax cuts and small raises for veteran teachers.

“I’ve proposed a pay raise of 18% over the next two years, because our teachers deserve better pay and more respect,” Cooper said in a video released this week. “But the legislature wants to give them neither one.

“In fact, the Senate has given veteran teachers a $250 raise spread over two years. $250! That’s a slap in the face, and it will make the teacher shortage worse.”

Focus on beginning teachers

North Carolina used to provide teachers an annual raise for each year they moved a “step” up the experience scale. But in an effort to move teachers up the salary schedule faster, state lawmakers changed it so that educators with more than 15 years experience only get one more automatic state raise when they reach their 25th year.

The Senate budget would provide teachers with an average raise of 4.5% over the next two years.

Beginning teachers would get raises of 11% over the next two years, raising the state base salary of $37,000 to $39,000 this fall and $41,000 next year. The increase comes as the National Education Association has ranked North Carolina 46th in the nation in beginning teacher pay.

Teachers with more than 15 years of experience would get a $20 a month raise this year and a $5 a month increase next year to reach a salary of $54,250. That’s a raise of 0.5% over the next two years.

Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, center, outlines the Senate Republicans’ budget proposal during a press conference on Monday, May 15, 2023 at the Legislative Building in Raleigh.
Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, center, outlines the Senate Republicans’ budget proposal during a press conference on Monday, May 15, 2023 at the Legislative Building in Raleigh.

Berger says experienced teachers can earn up to an additional $10,000 a year if they take on additional leadership duties in their schools. But few school districts are part of the state-funded Advanced Teaching Roles program.

Berger has also said the Senate budget would raise average teacher pay to $59,121 by the end of the 2024-25 fiscal year, just under North Carolina’s median household income. The average salary includes the local salary supplements that many districts pay teachers.

Experienced teachers sound off

Berger’s arguments aren’t sitting well with experienced teachers.

“So according to this I will receive a raise of $25 a month and remain at that pay for 9 years,” Dawn Zuccarini, a teacher at Harris Creek Elementary School in Raleigh, tweeted last week. “I’m wondering why the Senate isn’t worried about retaining experienced teachers?”

Mary Helen Earle, a social studies teacher at Enloe High School in Raleigh, warned that the small raise and teacher salary schedule “encourages retirement in the midst of a teacher shortage.” The state’s public schools opened this school year with more than 5,500 teaching vacancies.

“No raise between years 15 and 25?” Earle continued in a tweet last week. “We need to do better NC!”

Several teachers mocked the $5 a month raise that the Senate would provide them next year.

“As I finish my 15th year teaching, it’s very motivating knowing that I might be able to get a $5 monthly raise after next school year,” Stephen Combs, a health and physical education teacher at Apex Middle School, tweeted last week. “I wonder why there is a teacher shortage?”

‘Insultingly low salary increases’

Gov. Cooper accused the Senate GOP of providing “insultingly low salary increases for teachers.” When coupled with the plan to further cut taxes and provide universal access to school vouchers, Cooper said it “drops an atomic bomb on public education.”

Gov. Roy Cooper visits with students as he tours Huntingtowne Farms Elementary School in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday, May 24, 2023.
Gov. Roy Cooper visits with students as he tours Huntingtowne Farms Elementary School in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday, May 24, 2023.

But Berger noted how the Senate budget drew support from seven Democrats.

“To say that a bipartisan group of 37 state senators, representing 3/4ths of the people of NC, would support a budget that ‘drops an atomic bomb’ on public education is hyperbolic nonsense,” Berger tweeted on Wednesday.

Republicans have veto-proof majorities in the legislature, so they don’t need Cooper’s support to pass a budget. It’s expected lawmakers will agree on a compromise on teacher raises that’s more than what the Senate has offered but is less than what the House would provide.

The House GOP budget provides an average 10.2% raise for teachers over the next two years. This includes an across-the-board 4.25% raise this year worth more than $2,000 for teachers with more than 15 years experience.

Also unlike the Senate, the House budget would restore providing extra pay for teachers who have a master’s degree or other advanced degree.

Mackey, the teacher, said unless something is done that the state will continue to lose more experienced educators.

“They don’t want people like me staying around,” Mackey said. “They want this revolving door of people who come in and teach 15 years and then leave. As a parent I wished they’d value experience.”