Local teachers and school employees welcomed proposals to enhance funding for public education included in Gov. Roy Cooper’s state budget. Released Wednesday, the fiscal 2023-25 spending plan includes an average 18% raise over the biennium for K-12 teachers and other education staff.
“We are closely following the budget process and certainly welcome budget increases that benefit public education,” said Lindsay Whitley, Cumberland County Schools associate superintendent of communications, in an email.
“We are at a historic moment with unprecedented opportunity to make ‘once-in-a-generation’ investments in our future,” Cooper said in releasing his budget. “North Carolina has built on our success to strengthen our place as first in opportunity, and we will continue that growth only by making sound investments in our families, workforce, schools and communities. Let’s take advantage of our unlimited potential to make sure every North Carolinian can thrive.”
Cooper's spending plan, dubbed First in Opportunity, includes $1 billion to support mental health programs, the largest investment in state employee compensation in 50 years, and funding for child care, job training, and economic development. The proposed budget does not raise taxes for North Carolinians and would maintain almost $7 billion in reserves in case of a potential downturn, the governor said.
The budget includes funding to help hire more educators, nurses, counselors, social workers, school psychologists, and turnaround coaches, and it fully funds the remedial plan ordered by the state Supreme Court.
Cooper’s budget proposal calls for 10% raises for teachers and principals in the upcoming fiscal year and an additional 6% in the next.
“Public education will improve significantly in North Carolina if we have a good teacher in every classroom and a good principal in every school,” the Democratic governor said during a press conference Wednesday. “That's what this budget aims at.”
Cooper’s proposal will have to make its way through a General Assembly dominated by Republicans, a party that has a supermajority in the state Senate and is just one seat short of that mark in the House.
Rep. Diane Wheatley, a Cumberland County’s Republican, did not respond to a request Wednesday for comment on Cooper’s budget proposal.
The office of Sen. Tom McInnis, the other Republican representing the county, said the senator was feeling unwell and was unable to comment Wednesday on the governor’s proposed budget.
Republican Speaker of the House Tim Moore panned the proposal.
“Gov. Cooper’s budget takes the same reckless approach to spending that his fellow Democrats have taken in Washington,” Moore said in a statement.
Cooper’s budget proposal comes amid a statewide teacher shortage, including in Cumberland County.
As of late February, there were 155 vacant teacher positions out of 3,551 budgeted positions in Cumberland County Schools, a vacancy rate of 4.36%, nearly quadruple the rate before the COVID-19 pandemic, CityView previously reported.
To address these vacancies and others across the state, Cooper’s proposal calls for $1.8 billion in funding over the next two years to help retain and recruit teachers.
The proposal also calls for a minimum statewide starting salary for teachers of $46,000 annually.
Cumberland’s starting salary for the 2022-23 school year is $3,700 a month for teachers with no experience. For a 10-month school year, the annual sum comes to $37,000. That total doesn’t include annual supplements from the county and state.
The median annual salary for CCS teachers, as of late last month, is $49,000, according to the school district.
Aside from teachers and principals, Cooper’s proposal also calls for 9.5% raises for other educational staff, including bus drivers. CCS bus drivers recently staged a sick-out in protest of their wages, CityView reported.
Ben Sessoms covers Fayetteville and education for CityView. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.