Teacher pay hikes face grim fiscal reality

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Gov. Pat McCrory’s announcement last week that he plans to provide pay increases for all teachers and state employees in the next fiscal year was greeted by equal amounts of enthusiasm and skepticism.

McCrory proposed an across-the-board pay increase of 2 percent for all teachers and a $1,000 pay raise for state employees for the 2014-15 fiscal year. The governor is expected to release the full details of his plan this week when he submits his budget proposal to the N.C. General Assembly.

The state’s teachers certainly deserve a raise, having received just one pay hike of 1.2 percent in the past five years. Nationally, North Carolina ranks 46th in teacher pay, and it lags far behind the average teacher salaries of neighboring states, which are luring a significant amount of good teachers away from North Carolina.

The big question is how he intends to pay for the raises. A 2 percent raise for teachers will cost the state about $265 million, and the state is right now facing a $445 million shortfall in the current fiscal year. That shortfall is likely to continue into the 2014-15 fiscal year, when the tax reform plan approved last year by the General Assembly also will kick in – a plan that will cost the state about $300 million in revenue.

Other components of McCrory’s plans for the state’s schools also come with a considerable price tag, including $46 million for textbooks, $3.6 million to expand early childhood education programs and $9 million for a “career pathways” performance-based teacher pay pilot program.

While a press release from McCrory’s office touted the plan as a “unified strategy” from McCrory, N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis and N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger, neither Berger nor Tillis was present during the governor’s announcement.

The fate awaiting McCrory’s desire to raise teacher and state employee salaries is uncertain in the Republican-controlled legislature, which has repeatedly demonstrated a strong preference for cutting revenue over increasing spending – even when it comes to providing a quality education for the state’s children.