How the "largest pay raise in state history" amounts to an average of $270.
After nearly two months of waiting, the North Carolina legislature has erupted in a budget compromise. The bill, which was publicly posted last night at 11pm, can be passed into law as early as this weekend. The Senate is likely voting as of the writing of this post; the House can pass it as soon as the bill has been public for 48 hours.
To begin: if you are a young teacher, the new budget bill, and its new, six-step teacher pay scale, appears very rewarding.
Teachers in the first several years of their experience are rewarded a worthy and well-earned pay increase. These new educators, who have labored nearly their entire careers without any raises, will see their paychecks jump by as much as 18.5 percent--nearly $6,000 for teachers in their fifth year of service.
What legislators don't want to show you, though, is the salary schedule from 2008.
That salary schedule, which was the last teacher pay scale before the economic downturn of 2009 forced the state government to freeze salaries, is awfully telling when put next to the 2014-15 proposed pay scale.
Here's a chart that shows the 2008-09, 2013-14, and proposed 2014-15 pay scales:
If you only look at the 2013-14 numbers, the proposed budget looks like a great deal--an average pay increase of $2,129, thanks mostly to the big jumps in the first 12 years of the pay scale.
But when you stack the proposed 2014-15 scale next to the 2008-09 scale, the numbers tell a different story. Under that scenario, out of the 32 steps of the scale, 13 pay grades earn less money in the 2014-15 budget. The average pay increase is $270.
Read that again: if we were simply comparing the proposed 2014-15 salary schedule to the 2008-09 salary schedule, the average teacher would see a pay increase of $270.
Further more, these are raw numbers. What that comparison fails to take into account is the simple cost of inflation over the last 6 years. If the 2008-09 salary schedule had been kept in place and updated each year to account for inflation, the average teacher would earn $4,212 more than the 2014-15 proposed budget would pay them.
Again: if we simply adopted the 2008-09 salary schedule this year and adjusted it for inflation, the average teacher would make $4,212 more. (See chart below)
Now, this blog post pays attention to one item in a big budget deal. What else does the budget agreement mean for North Carolina?
- Dramatically changes funding structures for teacher assistants, and uses NC Lottery dollars for "one-time" expenses--setting up future budget challenges
- Cuts $76mm from the UNC system
- Reduces the Department of Public Instruction budget by 10 percent
- Decreases child care subsidies for needy families
- Further cuts Medicaid spending, adding an additional percent to last year's cuts to now total 4 percent
- Reduces the number of local mental health agencies
So what do North Carolinians do?
There doesn't appear to be much on the table at this point. Given that it's taken an entire month beyond the start of the fiscal year, and that House Speaker Thom Tillis is more than ready to hit the US Senate campaign trail full time, this budget proposal will likely sail through to the Governor's desk.
Make no mistake--Thom Tillis and everyone up for re-election in November is shilling for your vote. Teacher pay turned into a lightning rod issue because public educators demanded it to be one. While politicians ignored educators last year, they learned their lesson and rushed to raise salaries, even to the point of legislative deadlock, because they knew legions of Republican teachers would vote against them if they didn't.
While this budget proposal is a step in the right direction, it still falls thousands of dollars short of what teachers were promised just six years ago. And while few are willing to admit it, the lack of funding our government claims is fueling our limited ability to raise teacher pay is due in part to the dramatic and far-reaching tax cuts enacted by our legislature in recent years--tax cuts that are already falling hundreds of millions of dollars short of initial projections.
Our state legislators tell us they value public education. This year, they're offering a tiny bit of compensation and billing it as a historic raise. What they've yet to do, so far, is admit that rebuilding and restoring our public school system to a funding level it experienced within this decade will mean raising taxes.
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