Governor Cooper released his recommendations for the 2019-21 fiscal year budgets yesterday. As was expected, the proposed budget from Cooper highlighted his commitment to invest a notable amount of resources into education in North Carolina.
Some top-line information to know regarding his proposal:
Raising Teacher Pay
Teacher pay has been a sticking point for Democrats over the past few elections. Republicans would (correctly) point to consistent raises for teachers, but the state continues to lag behind most of the nation. In fact, thought they tout raises, contextualizing education spending now versus when the recession struck in 2008 paints a less rosy picture. By many metrics, and especially considering inflation, North Carolina is barely on par with where we were pre-recession. A lot has changed in a decade, and our state continues to grow rapidly. This meager approach to education spending may appeal to those who only care about decimal points and bottom lines, but it really is a disservice to the future of North Carolina.
Regardless of how big the building, how new the technology or how nice the textbooks, it all starts with a good teacher. The Republican budgets have teacher pay spinning its wheels at best, and in practice often results in shifting benefits and cuts for veteran educators. Governor Cooper’s budget would increase average pay for existing teachers by 9.1% over the biennium. It also restores Master’s pay, something which never should’ve been removed. If we want the best and brightest in the classrooms teaching the future leaders of our state, we have to treat them with the respect that they deserve.
Another worthy addition: Cooper would eliminate the requirement to pay for a substitute teacher when using a personal day. Not many people know that teachers have to actually forfeit part of their income to cover the cost of subs when they are not in the classroom. Though pay increases are nice and important, a lot of the problem with North Carolina and education is a lack of respect for the profession. This proposed budget is a bold step in the right direction.
The budget also would provide $9 million “to recruit, retain, and support North Carolina’s educator workforce,” which would improve programs that help develop teachers once they are in the job. This is another essential aspect of improving the education profession in the state — it’s not enough to lure teachers in with increased salaries, we need to give them the opportunity for professional development that keep them engaged and growing in their career.
NC GROW & Finish Line Grants
Governor Cooper’s proposed budget also “creates the NC GROW (Getting Ready for Opportunities in the Workforce) Scholarship and Aid for Students Seeking Industry Credentials Program,” which would help make community college affordable so that we can train the next wave of workers.
Cooper’s emphasis on community college programs should be a ballast for those that are skeptical of both the need and the cost of a traditional four-year college education. For too long, people have subscribed to the idea that if you go to college, collect mountains of debt and receive a piece of paper with your name on it, everything will work out. Years of evidence to the contrary have emerged, and student debt is one of the biggest hurdles both Millennials and Gen X face. Proposals like this will hopefully lessen that load for those furthering their education in the future.
The approach is both financially smart and pragmatic, as it focuses in part on “short-term workforce training programs that lead to industry credentials in fields with documented employer demand and competitive wages.” Basically, we’ll target folks who are seeking jobs in industries that are growing and will yield a good return on that investment.
The recommendations from Governor Cooper are, at best, a wish list, but it ought to give North Carolinians an outline of how Democrats, if given legislative power, might address some of the most pressing issues in our state. Though Republicans still hold majorities in both the House and Senate, Cooper does have veto power that can be sustained now. This budget battle will be one for the ages.
Kirk Kovach is a native North Carolinian interested in writing about politics, communication and culture.