JAMESTOWN, N.C. (AP) — Gov. Pat McCrory said Tuesday that he would give public school teachers 5 percent pay raises on average in his state budget proposal for the coming year, along with significant one-time bonuses that would disproportionately benefit veteran educators.
Speaking at the high school he attended, the Republican governor presented the pay increase within a list of public education recommendations he'll ask lawmakers to approve. The General Assembly reconvenes in three weeks, with its primary job adjusting the second year of the two-year spending plan they approved in September.
McCrory said his proposed raises would boost average teacher salary to more than $50,000 a year, moving North Carolina up the state pay rankings.
"We think it's very beneficial and very deserved for our teachers," McCrory said, flanked by students and officials at Ragsdale High School in Jamestown.
Critics have noted that, under Republican rule, North Carolina has remained among the states with the lowest average teacher pay. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Roy Cooper and his ally, the North Carolina Association of Educators, called McCrory's pay plan a political ploy to make up for years of bad education policies.
Proposed bonuses for teachers and principals, according to McCrory's office, would average 3.5 percent of salaries and reach $5,000 for teachers with at least 25 years of experience.
Few details were offered at the news conference about how the proposed permanent raises would be distributed along the teacher pay scale. McCrory's office said late Tuesday the permanent pay raises would cost roughly $250 million annually. The bonuses would result in a one-time cost of $165 million for teachers and $10 million more for principals, according to Josh Ellis, McCrory's communications director.
McCrory said higher growth in tax collections would help pay for the compensation. State budget office and General Assembly staff has projected a $237 million surplus for the year ending June 30, with an additional $179 million for use in the next year. More details are expected with the actual release of his budget later this month
"It's not a huge budget surplus, but it is sufficient for us to focus especially on the teacher profession," he said.
Although the teaching profession has benefited from raises the past two years, permanent increases have been largely tilted toward early career teachers as lawmakers and McCrory raised the minimum base salary to $35,000. That's led to complaints that veteran teachers have been left out.
"Once again, there is no long-range plan to elevate public school educators to the head of the class, only election-year proposals that do little to make up for years of disrespecting the education profession and dismantling our public schools," NCAE Vice President Mark Jewell said in a release.
Republican legislators interviewed largely supported McCrory's pay ideas, although offering 5 percent raises may be difficult. House Speaker Tim Moore said in January he expected pay increase proposals of closer to 2 percent this year.
"A lot is going to depend on what the revenue looks like," said Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, an education budget writer. "I feel like we will (offer) something significant for teachers if the money's there."
Both Tillman and Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, a House education budget-writer, said they want to keep pressing for ways to give higher pay to educators who teach in hard-to-staff schools or subjects. McCrory's list Tuesday didn't address differentiated pay. Ellis said the governor hasn't given up on that concept.
McCrory also said he will propose in his budget:
— $2 million to fund 300 scholarships designed to attract qualified math and science teachers for public schools.
— $5 million more for education scholarships for K-12 students with disabilities.
— more money to expand Wi-Fi access in the public schools and increase the use of electronic textbooks.
Robertson contributed to this report from Raleigh.