North Carolina Teacher Policy Debates Move to Budget Process

Last Updated: June 27, 2014

This article appeared in the June 2014 Rural Policy Matters.

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Leaders in North Carolina’s legislature aren’t giving up the fight to end tenure for the state’s public school teachers even though a judge ruled last month that the 2013 law ending tenure by 2018 is unconstitutional. Instead, the Senate has a new twist: force teachers to give up tenure if they want to receive a pay raise.

For the time being, the battle is focused on the state’s budget with the Governor, the House, and the Senate each offering different budgets with different provisions for teacher salary structures, raises, and tenure protections.

Tenure ruling

As part of a sweeping package that reduced per pupil funding and made other significant changes to the state’s education system, the 2013 North Carolina legislature ended tenure for teachers. The package included vouchers for private schools, provisions to expand charter schools, and a phase out of tenure for K-12 teachers.

Specifically, the law froze teacher salaries, which resulted in the state’s average teacher pay falling to 48th in the nation. It removed the possibility of tenure for new teachers and mandated that teachers who had already earned tenure would lose the status by 2018. To incentivize and speed up the process, the law required local districts to award $500 bonuses to 25% of teachers; however, to be eligible for the bonuses teachers were required to forfeit tenure immediately. 

Many teachers refused the possibility of bonuses, and some 50 school boards made statements opposing the requirement to choose teachers to receive them. Guilford and Durham County school boards filed law suits as did the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE).

In May, Wake County Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood ordered a permanent injunction against implementation of the law. Hobgood said in the NCAE case that retroactively abolishing tenure “amounts to an unconstitutional taking of plaintiffs’ property rights in their existing contract.” A court had previously issued a temporary injunction against the bonus provision in the Guilford and Durham school board cases.

Budget wrangling

The fight over teacher salaries and tenure has now moved to the state budget process. All three proposed budgets respond to mounting public pressure to address teacher salaries by raising the minimum starting salary to $33,000, up from about $30,000. All three also include some funding to pilot performance-based compensation plans.

None of the proposed budgets would restore revenues from broad tax cuts enacted last year. And, all three budgets project increases in revenue from the state’s lottery. However, those projections are under fire because the effects of new rules related to lottery advertising are unclear.

Beyond these similarities, the budgets address teacher salaries, tenure, and other aspects of education funding in different ways, reflecting growing divisions within the state’s Republican party, which holds the governorship and super-majorities in both legislative chambers.

Senate proposal. The Senate offers an increase in average teacher salary of nearly 11%, but only for teachers who voluntarily relinquish tenure. Teachers who refuse to give up tenure would not be eligible for a raise. New teachers would be placed on one, two, or four-year contracts with no possibility for tenure. The senate budget offers no additional pay for teachers with a Master’s Degree.

The Senate budget reduces overall funding for the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) by 30%, but adds three positions to DPI’s Office of Charter Schools. It also reduces funding for bus replacement, protects Teach for America (TFA) from state budget cuts, flat funds textbooks, retains funding for private school vouchers (court rulings on the constitutionality of the program are pending), and establishes an endowment for merit-based teacher pay. 

The Senate budget would pay for increases in teacher salaries primarily by eliminating 7,400 teaching assistant positions and 70 school nurse positions; it would also reduce the state's Medicaid rolls.

House proposal. The proposed House budget would provide a 5% average raise for teachers (2% for teachers currently on the top rung of the salary scale) and would not require currently tenured teachers to give up their status. As in the Senate budget, new teachers would not be eligible for tenure, but would be put on one, two, or four-year contracts. Salary supplements for Master’s degrees would continue for teachers who earned them prior to July 1, 2013. Teachers who earn master's degrees after that date would be eligible for supplements only when teaching in the subject area of the degree.

The House budget reduces funding for bus replacement, flat funds textbooks, and protects TFA from budget cuts. It reduces funding to DPI by 1% and makes a $300,000 grant to expand charter schools in rural areas.

The House budget would cover increased costs with lottery funding and by eliminating 788 teaching positions.

Governor’s proposal. Governor Pat McCrory has proposed a new state salary schedule that would bump average pay. The budget does not address tenure. The Governor’s budget provides supplements for Master’s degrees to teachers who earned them before July 1, 2013 and to teachers who are teaching in the subject area of their master’s degree.

The Governor’s proposed budget reduces transportation funding by $5.5 million, and doubles current textbook allocations to $30.48 per student. It also flat funds DPI and provides $4 million to expand access to instructional content, assessment items, and professional development tools to charter schools.

The McCrory budget is less specific than the others about its revenue sources, but the Governor has said he will not accept cuts in teacher assistant positions.

North Carolina requires the legislature to reach a budget agreement by July 1. However, this deadline is frequently missed, in which case the state continues with the prior year’s budget as negotiations continue.

Read more:

A summary of the budget proposals by Public Schools First North Carolina:

Coverage of the budget debates:

Coverage of the tenure ruling:

Read more from the June 2014
Rural Policy Matters.