North Carolina Senate leader Phil Berger unveiled a proposal to hike teacher pay Wednesday morning, detailing a $468 million plan to address teacher concerns about pay but applying only to those teachers who give up tenure.
"This is a significant step in the direction of addressing what has been a problem with reference to how we pay our teachers," Berger said.
North Carolina teachers have struggled to get raises in recent years, and frustration over the issue has been a major part of the Moral Monday protests.
The issue has been a big one in a political year, one in which the Democrats are fighting hard to regain control of the North Carolina General Assembly.
The Senate plan would repeal the automatic loss of teacher tenure in 2018 and offer teachers a choice of whether to maintain that status, according to a news release from Berger's office. Teachers who move to annual contracts for 2014-15 would move to the new pay scale; those who choose to keep tenure would remain on the current pay scale.
The plan also extends supplemental pay for teachers with master's degrees. Teacher pay has not risen at a state level since 2008 except for a 1.2 percent raise in 2012.
Gov. Pat McCrory made proposals to raise teacher pay before General Assembly began its short session. McCrory is proposing to raise starting teacher pay in North Carolina from $30,800 to $33,000.
North Carolina ranks 47th in the nation in average teacher pay.
Berger, on Wednesday, went further, proposing what he said were an average of $5,800 a year raises for teachers and raises in excess of 11 percent. The raise would bring North Carolina more to the middle of the pack for teacher pay nationally, rather than toward the bottom.
Berger said the teacher pay proposal was in the budget and would be funded with recurring dollars. The pay raises could cost the state up to $468 million.
"Our plan is paid for using recurring revenue sources and will not require tax increases," Berger said.
He called it the largest teacher pay increase in North Carolina history.
Berger also said paying teachers more was possible because of the changes the Republicans have made in recent years.
"Because of those reforms we made in the past three years, we now sit in a position to be able to do this," Berger said.
However, the Senate plan could meet with opposition because of its approach to tenure.
Rodney Ellis, an eighth grade teacher in Winston-Salem who is the president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said in a statement, "Teachers need to be consistently treated like professionals, not political pawns in an election year. They have not had a pay raise in five of the last six years--they have had a lot of promises.
"If the Senate thinks it's a priority to give all teachers an 11 percent pay raise, why don't they just give the pay raise? Why tie it to taking away a constitutionally protected right?
"There is no need to intimidate and silence the voices of teachers by taking away their right to a hearing before termination. This debate over the future of public education would be completely different if all the teachers who have written letters to the editor and letters to their legislators were afraid of losing their jobs."
The AP reported that about 57,000 of the state's nearly 100,000 public school teachers have tenure rights, according to the state Department of Public Instruction.
Earlier this month, a state Superior Court judge ruled the law taking job protections from veteran teachers was unconstitutional.
Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood of Wake County said veteran teachers have an established right to a layer of review beyond school administrators when they face firing, the AP reported earlier in May. His ruling also said the law passed by Republican lawmakers last year violates constitutional rights that protect contracts and prevent governments from taking a person's property.
"After four years of cuts from local classrooms, I hope today’s announcement is true recognition among Senate Republicans that they have caused an education crisis in this state. Our hardworking teachers simply deserve a competitive salary and the ability to make ends meet. It remains to be seen how Senator Berger plans to pay for these raises without dismantling other essential services, given his massive handouts to the wealthy and special interests last year. I hope today’s press conference marks a true and sustainable attempt to raise teacher pay to the national average – and not just a desperate election-year attempt to mitigate some of the damage they’ve done. If so, we stand ready to work with him to support our teachers."
-Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue
"After years of attacks on public education and perpetuating the teacher pay crisis in North Carolina, Sen. Berger has finally joined the Democrats' call to provide meaningful raises for teachers. However, it remains to be seen whether this is a realistic proposal or merely a shell game designed only to give Republicans an election year talking point. We look forward to reviewing their proposal and learning how they are going to pay for it now and in the future."
-House Democratic leader Larry D. Hall
"Once again, Raleigh politicians who have made a cottage industry of attacking public schools are trying to hide what are likely further cuts to public education,” said Gerrick Brenner, Executive Director of Progress North Carolina. “Senator Berger does not want to talk about the budget cuts needed to pay for his pay raise plan, and he really does not want to mention the reckless tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations which have dug public schools into a huge budget hole."
-Gerrick Brenner, executive director of Progress North Carolina