NC House proposes state employee, teacher raises amid budget standoff with Senate

North Carolina House Republicans are pushing forward with their proposal for an updated state budget, releasing a spending plan Monday night that features new raises for state employees and teachers.

The proposed spending plan would give state employees an additional 1% raise, raise the starting salary for teachers to $44,000, allocate more money to private school vouchers and give cost-of-living bonuses to state retirees.

Those raises are on top of pay increases approved in last year’s state budget, which gave 3% raises for this year to most state employees this year to follow last year’s 4% raises.

The budget says the average raise for teachers, including what was already allocated in the 2023 budget as well as step increases for longevity, is 4.4%.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s new proposed state budget calls for an 8.5% raise in teacher pay this year, The News & Observer previously reported.

The House proposal is unlikely to become law, as it comes in the midst of a standoff between Republican leaders in the House and Senate about how much of the state’s money should be spent.

The House budget also would restore the benefit that allows teachers to get higher pay if they have a master’s degree. That would likely have a hard time becoming law because Senate leader Phil Berger has been skeptical of basing teacher pay on advanced degrees.

“Our teachers and public school employees just finished another successful school year, making extraordinary efforts to teach our kids in the face of continued staff shortages, low pay, and lack of respect,” Tamika Walker Kelly, president of the N.C. Association of Educators, said in a statement. “How much longer will they hang on?

“We lost 1 in 9 teachers just last year. Master’s pay and beginning teacher raises give hope, but an expansion of private school vouchers won’t help.“

House and Senate at odds over budget process

Although most state employees and teachers are already set to receive raises this year, House Speaker Tim Moore said he wanted to see additional pay increases.

“The House is really committed to making sure that we do something for our state employees and for our teachers. And we don’t have the Senate there,” Moore told reporters last week. “And we feel like it’s important, if nothing more than to go ahead and make a statement.”

Berger told reporters last week he opposed what he said were the House’s plans to dip into reserves to fund the budget adjustment on top of using the state’s $1 billion revenue surplus.

“The Senate is not going to go in that direction,” he said. “We’ve spent a decade and a half trying to make sure that we don’t fall into the same traps that the Democrats fell into — which is if you’ve got the money, spend it.”

The General Assembly already adopted a two-year budget in 2023, so lawmakers do not have to pass a new budget this year. However, the legislature typically passes a budget adjustment bill in even-numbered years and aims to do so by the end of the fiscal year on July 1.

Berger said the Senate is “perfectly at peace” with the existing budget and hopes to end the legislative session’s business by the end of the month.

Democratic leader Robert Reives criticized House leadership for pushing through a budget proposal that’s unlikely to pass.

“We have several serious deadlines bearing down on us over the next few weeks,” Reives said in a statement on Monday. “To use this week to pass a budget bill that cannot become law is disrespectful and disingenuous to the people that put us here.”

Moore said he intends to put the budget proposal through committees on Tuesday and then hold votes Wednesday and Thursday.

What are the proposed raises?

State employees are already set to get raises in July — even if the legislature doesn’t pass a new budget. Starting July 1, most state employees will see a 3% raise. This comes after lawmakers approved a 4% raise for state employees in 2023.

The House’s 2024 proposal would kick this year’s raise up to 4% and give correctional officers an additional 9% raise.

It would also give retired state employees what Republicans described in a news release as a 2% cost-of-living bonus. Lawmakers provided 4% bonuses to retirees last year. Bonuses are one-time, not cumulative, payments.

The proposed teacher pay raises come at a time when the National Education Association says the state is 42nd in beginning teacher pay. The NEA also estimates the state is 41st in overall average teacher pay.

Last year’s state budget had provided the biggest pay raises for newer teachers, with the starting salary set to rise to $41,000 for the 2024-25 school year. House GOP lawmakers want to add $3,000 more to that amount.

The House budget further narrows the salaries between top and lower ranges of the teacher pay scale. A teacher with 25 years or more experience would make $56,510.

While House GOP leaders say the average pay raise would be 4.4% this year, the biggest increases are still for newer teachers. For instance, a beginning teacher would get a 12.8% pay increase this year compared to 2.6% for a teacher with 15 or more years experience.

Restoration of higher pay for holding an advanced degree would address some of the concerns for veteran teachers if the Senate agrees.

Opportunity Scholarships

The budget allocates $250 million toward expanding the Opportunity Scholarship program, which provides vouchers to be used to pay for private school regardless of the income level of the family requesting them.

The plan would fully fund the waiting list of 55,000 students seeking a private school voucher.

State lawmakers eliminated income limits for the Opportunity Scholarship program, leading to a record total of nearly 72,000 new applicants this year. The state agency in charge of the voucher program only had enough money to fund the lowest-income applicants.

More than 70% of the families on the waiting list wouldn’t have been eligible under the old income limits.

The Senate had passed legislation in May to provide $463.5 million over the next two years to clear the backlog. But the bill stalled in the House as the budget was being developed.

Child care

House leaders also propose spending $135 million on child care centers, given that federal COVID-19 pandemic relief grants are expiring.

“As we’ve worked diligently on the House budget, one thing has remained clear: we cannot leave Raleigh without addressing the childcare crisis,” Rep. Donny Lambeth, a House budget chairman, said in a statement on Monday. “The House budget continues 75% of current stabilization grants to keep childcare centers open and parents can remain in the workforce, while giving the state time to develop a more sustainable model for childcare costs.”

UNC and NC State

Lawmakers are also proposing a new College of Applied Science and Technology at UNC-Chapel Hill, which would offer degrees in engineering, biomedical sciences, math and physical sciences, among others. The university would receive $8 million in one-time, start-up funds in the upcoming fiscal year “to develop, operate, and offer degrees and related programs at the college.”

NC State University could receive millions of dollars from the state to renovate Poe Hall, which has been closed since November due to the presence of toxic chemicals. The budget would allocate $5 million in the upcoming fiscal year “for the design, engineering and implementation of building renovations” at the academic building, and the university would be authorized to spend as much as $180 million on the project.

School safety

The budget also allocates money to transfer the Center for Safer Schools, which helps the state’s public schools with school climate, discipline, and emergency preparedness, from the Department of Public Instruction to the State Bureau of Investigation.

That money includes $35 million in one-time funds for “equipment, training, and students in crisis,” and $33 million in recurring funds for school resource officers in elementary and middle schools.

Opioid addiction

The budget also increases grants directed to various counties, churches and organizations to provide opioid remediation programs, services and activities, from just under $5 million in one-time money in the upcoming fiscal year to a bit more than $41 million.

Prison spending

House Republicans want an additional 9% raise for certified employees at the Department of Adult Correction.

At the same time, the budget calls for eliminating 1,400 correctional officer positions within the department that are currently vacant, which would free up about $83 million that is currently allocated for salaries.

DAC has struggled to fill vacant positions in recent years, but Commissioner Todd Ishee told an oversight panel of lawmakers in April that vacancy rates for correctional and probation officers were trending down after the department held 620 hiring events in 2023.

Avi Bajpai, Korie Dean, Luciana Perez Uribe Guinassi and Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan contributed to this report.