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A GOP Budget Bargaining Chip: Teacher Pay

Photo: Senate Leader Phil Berger, a Republican from Rockingham County
Jorge Valencia

A plan introduced Wednesday at the legislature by Senate Republicans would increase average annual teacher pay, and move North Carolina to the top of compensation in the southeast. The plan is significant in size, and represents a bargaining chip in the ongoing budget negotiations between the Senate and House.

During a news conference, Senate Pro Tem Phil Berger touted the plan as a 20 percent increase in teacher pay, a bump of nearly $10,000 annually since the 2013-14 school year. Proposed raises for teachers were expected in this election year, however, the plan out of the Senate goes further than what the House and Governor McCrory had previously called for. One glaring omission as the plan was unveiled, was just how such raises would be paid for.

"The tax reform proposals that have been implemented have resulted in growth in state revenues. The money is there on a recurring basis and once you see the full budget you'll be able to see the details of that," Berger said.

The proposal adds more than half a billion dollars to base teacher pay, although Berger didn't say where that $538 million would come from.

"It's hard to have a full understanding talking about it in bits and pieces, but I think once you see the full budget you will see how that fits together," he said.

The full Senate budget proposal is due out next week. The House has already passed its version of the budget. Leaders from both chambers will then broker a budget deal during several weeks of negotiations in June.

Speaking at an education and business event in Durham an hour after Berger's announcement, Governor Pat McCrory said he hadn't seen the details, but he felt his office, the Senate, and the House were on the same page.

"There will be a teacher pay increase," McCrory said. "The question is how much, and the question is how will you distribute that teacher pay? Will it be across the board? Will it be based on performance? Will it be based upon market demand?"

Under Berger's proposal, teachers would reach the top of the pay scale in 15 years, as opposed to the current standard of 33 years. This plan doesn't deal with merit pay, although Berger hinted more on that could be coming soon.

"This part is not merit based, but remember, we have talked about fixing and modifying the base pay structure so that we then have the capacity to do some merit based things. So I think you will see some of that when the budget comes out as well," Berger told reporters.

Today's pitch to grow teacher pay is seen as a bargaining chip as the House and Senate work to negotiate a state spending plan by the end of June.

Jeff Tiberii covers politics for WUNC. Before that, he served as the station's Greensboro Bureau Chief.
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