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Senate Republicans Offer 11 Percent Raises For Teachers Who Give Up Tenure

Senate leaders gathered for a press conference on Wednesday morning to release their teacher pay plan.

Senate Republicans released a plan on Wednesday to provide what they call the "largest teacher pay raise in state history." The plan calls for an average 11 percent raise for teachers as long as they give up career status, otherwise known as tenure. Teachers who choose to not give up their job protections would stay on the current pay plan and not receive any increases. 

Senate leader Phil Berger and a team of other Republican senators packed a very small legislative room on Wednesday morning. They crowded around a large, wooden podium and began announcing a teacher pay plan they call "groundbreaking."

 “It will be the largest pay increase for teachers in state history and it will boost North Carolina from currently 47th in overall teacher pay to the middle of current rankings, the estimate we have is somewhere around 27th,” Berger said.

Berger said the plan would bump North Carolina ahead of states like Virginia, Tennessee and South Carolina.

“This is a significant step in the direction of addressing what has been a continuing problem in NC with reference to how we pay our teacher,” Berger said.

The plan would get rid of what Berger calls an archaic 37-step pay scale. Instead, teachers would get raises more quickly. Teachers would start around 33,000 and reach 50,000 by 20 years. After that, the salary would stay stagnant for a while.

But there’s also a catch. Berger said teachers would only get raises if they give up their tenure. Also known as career status, tenure gives teachers the right to a hearing if they’re ever demoted or fired. Mark Jewell of the North Carolina Association of Educators says that part of the plan is just not fair.

“If you can afford to give everyone a pay raise, then give everyone a pay raise to bring them up, not with strings attached,” Jewell said.  

Republican lawmakers already tried scrapping the tenure system last year when they passed a law to eliminate it. That’s now held up in the courts, though this proposal would supersede that law.

Jewell said teachers should be able to hold onto their due process rights and that lawmakers need to do more listening if they don’t want to see more teachers leaving.

“You know, we’re surrounded by states who are paying four to five thousand dollars more right now, people are going to have to go where they feel like they’re valued and treated as a professional,” he said.

But Republican leaders say they are treating teachers like professionals. In their proposal, they would also tie teacher pay to their performance. Local school districts would be required to offer bonuses to the top 35 percent of teachers.   

Democratic Senator Dan Blue says these plans at least begin to address the teacher crisis and he hopes it’s not just an election year gimmick. But there’s also one pretty big question on his mind.

“How we’re going to pay for this very ambitious plan without basically just paralyzing other essential parts of government,” Blue said.

Senate leader Phil Berger says they would spend about $468,000 million to offer the pay raises. He made it clear to a group of reporters that they’ve done the calculations.

“This pay increase is in the budget, will be in the budget, is fully funded and is funded with recurring dollars,” he said

The exact details won’t come out until Senate leaders release their proposed budget, which is expected tonight or tomorrow. 

Here are some of the plan's highlights:  

- Average salary increase would be $5,908

- Currently NC's average teacher salary is $45,938. The estimated new average would be $51,198

- Senate leaders say they would spend $468 million for the increases. It is unclear where exactly that money would come from, but Republican Senators have pledged to avoid tax increases. Senate Leader Phil Berger said that the raises would be paid for using recurring revenue sources.

- It would extend supplemental pay for teachers with Master’s degrees to those who have completed at least one graduate course as of July 1, 2013

- The plan would repeal a controversial law that forces school districts to offer pay raises to 25 percent of their teachers in exchange for giving up tenure. That law is currently held up in court with two different lawsuits – one judge ruled that it’s unconstitutional to take away tenure, or career status.

- Republicans still want to tie pay to performance. Local school districts would reward the top 35% of teachers with “excellence increases.” 

-It would boost North Carolina from 47th in overall teacher pay to the middle of current national rankings. NC would also move from 9th to 3rd in the southeast, moving ahead of Virginia and South Carolina. 

- Teachers early in their careers (up to 19 years) would see salary jumps between 7 to 20 percent.

-  Teachers with 20-29 years of experience, on the other hand, would not see any pay increases after the initial bump. Their salary would stay at $50,000 until their 30th year when they would receive $51,042. 

Reema Khrais joined WUNC in 2013 to cover education in pre-kindergarten through high school. Previously, she won the prestigious Joan B. Kroc Fellowship. For the fellowship, she spent a year at NPR where she reported nationally, produced on Weekends on All Things Considered and edited on the digital desk. She also spent some time at New York Public Radio as an education reporter, covering the overhaul of vocational schools, the contentious closures of city schools and age-old high school rivalries.
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