RALEIGH — Robeson County educators are rejoicing after North Carolina House and Senate Republicans announced on Tuesday the details of a new budget that would see teacher salaries rise by 7 percent.
“Praise God, we won,” said school board member Brenda Fairley Ferebee upon learning of the news. “It has been a real journey, but to God be the journey.”
The new budget will not require the loss of teacher assistant positions as previously proposed, but will mean a 1 percent cut to the Medicaid reimbursement rate for health care providers. Most other state employees are getting raises, too, of $1,000, plus five extra days of vacation.
North Carolina House and Senate Republicans unveiled the details of a $21.25 billion budget that provides a raise for North Carolina teachers now among the lowest paid nationally. State lawmakers hope to approve the budget no later than Saturday and adjourn until the 2015 session.
The compromise comes after weeks of impasse and prodding from Gov. Pat McCrory to draft a budget with limited teacher pay raises that avoids big cuts to Medicaid and other areas of education. The new fiscal year began July 1.
According to Ferebee, the news could make it easier for North Carolina schools to hire more teachers.
“It was a threat to us in hiring, especially when they were taking away tenure,” Ferebee said. “We seemed to be undecided about the future of teachers in North Carolina. It used to be everything was mobile, but now everything is Internet, they can shop around for the good paying jobs.”
The budget deal would mean the largest raise in teacher salaries in the state’s history, and would also boost early career teacher pay to a minimum of $35,000 per year by the 2015-16 school year.
The average starting salary for a North Carolina teacher is less than $31,000, which is below all neighboring states. The National Education Association says the state’s slip to 46th for teacher pay is the result of five years of pay freezes.
The budget also includes a $500 pay raise for non-certified school employees, including teacher assistants, and a $1,000 pay raise for state employees.
“I do [not] know if this will be a deal maker but it is a step in the right direction,” said Jamie Bell, a teacher with Lumberton High School. ” … I personally would like to see steps made for creating qualified teachers in North Carolina.”
While no teacher assistant positions were cut, $65 million was moved from the teacher assistant line of pay to make the pay raises possible, and another $24 million in teacher assistant funding was made “non-recurring,” which would mean that the funds will expire next year without legislative approval.
The budget plan still requires approval from the full House and Senate.
The proposal also adds about $800,000 for vouchers for students to attend private or religious schools if the program survives legal challenges and is able to start distributing money this academic year.