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What's the Likelihood of Teacher Raises This Year?

Tasnim Shamma

Raising teacher salaries is something Governor Pat McCrory and state lawmakers have agreed is a priority this year. The plan is to boost base pay to $35,000 over two years for teachers in their first ten years on the job. That amounts to raises of $500 to $4,200.  But as legislators begin crafting a budget, they say there may not be enough money to do all of that. 

WFAE’s Lisa Miller joins me now to discuss the likelihood of teacher raises this year. 

KK: The governor announced back in February that he wanted to give teachers this raise. The budget must’ve looked pretty good if he made that commitment so early on. So what’s changed since then?

LM: Well, revenue was looking good earlier this year and it’s still coming in slightly higher than expected. But the thing that’s worrying people is that personal income tax is coming in lower than forecast. Now, there was the tax overhaul which decreased corporate and personal income tax. But what’s really throwing lawmakers for a loop are these new simplified tax forms.

KK: Oh, I remember those. We had a choice of filling out a long one that took a lot of time and that easy no-brainer one.

LM: Yes, and that form figures out how much your employer will automatically withhold and send to the state each pay day. Now, the long form is more accurate. The short form may mean more people will have to pay up next April. 

KK: And that’s going to make it harder to plan.   

LM: It will, but the fiscal research division thinks the state will recoup all that money next April. But lawmakers see those numbers and they worry. The other thing is Medicaid overruns could be somewhere around $140 million. Last year, McCrory said the state couldn’t raise teacher pay because of those overruns. 

KK: So what are state lawmakers saying now about pay raises for beginning teachers?

LM: Well, education budget writers are being cautious. Here’s a conversation I had with Representative Craig Horn of Union County.

CH: We may not do everything we’d like to do, so what part of it can we do?  If I can’t get the whole loaf, can I get a couple of slices?  LM: What would a couple slices look like in this case? CH: I’m thinking $130 million, which is still a heck of a lot of money, but can we find it?  Yes, we can.

LM: So McCrory’s original plan would cost $200 million and amount to a $4,200 raise for beginning teachers. What Horn mentioned would shake out to something like a $2,700 raise for starting teachers over two years and that would trigger smaller raises for teachers in their sixth through tenth years. But he points out lawmakers are still waiting for what’s called the “April Surprise” before committing to anything. The state receives most of its revenue then and the state’s still tallying those numbers. 

KK: Is there any chance all teachers would get a pay raise any time soon?

LM: It’s certainly not going to happen this year, at least at the state level. CMS is pushing the county to pay for a 3 percent raise this year. Mecklenburg County like many others supplements teachers’ salaries. Now, part of the reason, you don’t see that appetite for across the board raises at the state level is that North Carolina is trapped between two teacher pay systems. For a long time, the state has paid them based on experience. But teachers have had their salaries frozen for the past five years, so a fifth year teacher makes as much as a first year teacher. Lawmakers want to move to a system where salaries are based on a teacher’s performance. But they haven’t come up with a plan for that. In the meantime, teachers point out that they’re among the lowest paid in the country and if state lawmakers hadn’t overhauled taxes, there’d be enough money down the line for an across-the-board raise. 

Lisa Worf traded the Midwest for Charlotte in 2006 to take a job at WFAE. She worked with public TV in Detroit and taught English in Austria before making her way to radio. Lisa graduated from University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in English.