A proposal for a multi-year increase in teacher pay — 5 percent this year and another 5 percent following yea would bring teacher salaries in North Carolina to at least the national average within five years and to first in the Southeast within three years

There is support among area educators for a proposal from the governor that would raise teacher pay, but caution remains as the plan heads to state legislators for consideration.

Gov. Roy Cooper announced a proposal for a multi-year increase in teacher pay that would bring teacher salaries in North Carolina to at least the national average within five years and to first in the Southeast within three years.

Cooper’s plan is to go to legislators as part of his upcoming budget proposal, which will include a 5 percent increase in pay this year and another 5 percent in the following year.

“It’s a step forward and now we’ll have to see what the legislators are going to do,” David Cox, a Northside High School teacher and president of the Onslow County chapter of the North Carolina Association of Educators.

Cox said the average teacher salary in North Carolina is about $46,000 while the national average is approximately $57,000.

Cox said the proposal is a good step toward bringing teacher pay up to the national average, but he also notes that there are other big issues in education funding to be considered, including cuts in textbook funding, pay raises for administrators, and the current legislation regarding K-3 class sizes.

“(Teacher pay) is not the only thing that needs to be worked on,” Cox said.

According to information with Cooper’s announcement, the plan would also give teachers a direct annual stipend of $150 to help offset the out-of-pocket expenses many teachers are spending for classroom supplies.

Cooper indicated his proposal invests $813 million for teacher salaries without a tax increase in his proposed budget.

While there has general support for teacher pay increases there has been immediate political debate over who is responsible, with praise for the Democrat governor’s plan from one side and the other saying the move to raise teacher pay began under the Republican-led leadership in the General Assembly.

The North Carolina Republican Party issued a news release following Cooper’s announcement saying
teacher pay in North Carolina has been rising faster than any other state thanks to Republican leadership.

Rep. Pat McElraft, R-Emerald Isle, who represents Carteret and Jones counties, said she’s glad to see the work that began under the previous administration and the General Assembly continue.

“I’m glad the governor is willing to continue the progress Gov. McCrory and the Republican House and Senate have made for improving teacher pay,” McElraft said. “In 2014 we provided pay increases to teachers that made North Carolina number one in the country for teacher pay increases over previous administrations. We also gave a big tax decrease to teachers and other taxpayers.”

Onslow County Board of Education Chairwoman Pam Thomas said that as an advocate for public education she sees the proposal as a “good step forward” for teachers.

Thomas noted that teachers lost their longevity pay with a previous pay plan, which hurt salaries.

Thomas said that even if Cooper’s plan were not to go through in full, she is hopeful the negotiations ahead in the General Assembly will come with a positive result.

“Anything we can do to support the salary structure for our teachers is a good thing,” Thomas said.

Chris Meek, an Onslow County teacher and a regional director for the NCAE, said he first met Cooper three years ago when running for the Board of Education in New Hanover County. Meek said that during that conversation, Coooper noted his mother was a teacher and stressed the importance of a strong, viable and fully funded public education system in North Carolina.

“Monday, Gov. Cooper revealed a plan that reflected those values,” Meek said. “He understands the need to raise the performance in schools that have been struggling, especially since the budget cuts that have drained them of their resources and talent. This plan will attract young people to the profession, which will replenish the rapidly draining pool of talent the legislature had pulled the plug on over the last seven years. This will also help us retain the many experienced educators who are already in the classrooms helping our students achieve success on a daily basis.”