Governor Pat McCrory released his $21 billion budget on Wednesday, setting aside $262.9 million for teacher raises and state employees.
The governor and lawmakers have made it clear that teacher pay will be a major priority for this year’s short session, which is a time meant for lawmakers to adjust the budget approved last year.
Teachers held their own “day of action” on Wednesday, the first day of the session. They outlined their demands and concerns in a morning press conference held by the North Carolina Association of Educators.
“North Carolina has to change direction now if we are going to save public education in this state,” said Rodney Ellis, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators.
Many of them condemned the governor’s proposals, saying his efforts do not go far enough. The governor says he wants to boost the starting salary for teachers to $35,000 over the next two years – about a 14% increase. He also wants to give teachers an average two percent raise next year.
Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis support his plan to raise teacher’s minimum pay, but have not signed onto his proposals to raise teacher and state employee salaries. Many lawmakers, however, say raising teacher pay is a top goal for this year’s short session.
Justin Ashley, a fourth-grade teacher from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, says he’s considering moving to teach elsewhere. He won N.C. Teacher of the year in social studies and history last year.
“I hope our legislators realize that we have choices too, we have options. Their names are Virginia, Tennessee, South Carolina and the private sector,” he said to dozens of teachers at the NCAE press conference on Wednesday.
“If you don’t want to compensate and honor us for what we do, then that’s okay, because we will find someone who will. That’s why North Carolina right now is bleeding teachers,” Ashley said.
More than 600 Wake County teachers left their jobs since July 2013, an increase of 41 percent from last year. And about 14 percent of teachers statewide left their districts last school year – about one out of every seven teachers.
North Carolina ranks 46th in the nation in average teacher salary and teachers haven’t seen a major pay raise since 2008.
“As a result of tightening the budget earlier this year, we remain confident that we will be able to move forward with legislative priorities including state employee and teacher raises,” said Speaker of the House Thom Tillis, praising McCrory's budget proposal.