Other Voices: Teacher pay plan is smart

Published 10:47 pm Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Gov. Roy Cooper wants to give North Carolina’s teachers a big raise. And then he wants to do it again. Good, for several reasons.

For one, they deserve it. Teachers have suffered in the lean and difficult years since the Great Recession. They went years without raises and saw their salaries drop from the national average to nearly the bottom of the barrel. Even with some recent raises, teacher pay in North Carolina is still in the nation’s bottom fifth.

And that leads us to the other reason why we need to boost teacher pay: We’re bleeding our best and brightest to neighboring states, all of which pay better than we do. Low salaries make it difficult, if not impossible, to recruit the top teachers that our school systems need.

So we welcome Cooper’s budget proposal, which will give public-school teachers a 5 percent raise in the next school year (which is essentially the next fiscal year as well), and then bumps them up another 5 percent in 2018-2019.

The governor doesn’t plan to stop there. He says he envisions continuing the pay hikes until the early 2020s, bringing teacher salaries here back to the national average. And within three years, teacher salaries here will rise to the highest in the Southeast. That may be the biggest help of all in combating the teacher brain drain.

It’s difficult to overstate just how important these raises are. North Carolina’s economy is growing fast, and this state is on most lists of the best places to do business. But we won’t stay there for long if we prove incapable of providing a workforce that is well trained and educated. We need to give them the best possible educations, from pre-K all the way through graduate school at our public universities. There is no more important element in sustainable economic development.

Yes, it will be expensive. Cooper says his plan will cost $813 million in the first two years alone. But he won’t have to raise taxes to do it – the money’s already in the till. So far this year, state revenues are dramatically outpacing spending. Budget analysts project a surplus of around $600 million this year alone, and there are no signs that the cash flow from taxes and fees will ebb.

Oh, and one more thing: Cooper also proposes giving teachers a $150-a-year stipend to help with their out-of-pocket expenses for classroom supplies. It’s about time government recognizes the shameful truth that most teachers do this, primarily because their schools no longer have the money to pay for basic supplies.

We hope this plan can win broad support and not be shot down by small-minded partisan squabbling. There’s nothing more important than our kids’ education.

— Fayetteville Observer