Gov. Cooper's budget proposal prioritizes public education, childcare funding

Michael Perchick Image
Wednesday, April 24, 2024
Cooper's budget proposal prioritizes public education, childcare money
Gov. Roy Cooper's proposed budget called for more spending on public schools and a moratorium on private school vouchers.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Gov. Roy Cooper shared details of his proposed budget for the 2024-2025 fiscal year during a news conference Wednesday morning inside the Albemarle Building in downtown Raleigh.

The Democratic governor has dubbed 2024 "The Year of Public Schools." He prioritized education and facility upgrades in his 209-page recommended budget adjustments.

North Carolina ranks 46th nationally in starting teacher pay, with new teachers earning $39,000 this year. That figure was scheduled to increase to $41,000 next year, with the governor calling for a jump to $46,000.

"The vast majority of parents are choosing public schools for their children, and they want strong investments in this budget that can help those schools continue to succeed and to improve," Cooper said. "The legislature can help fix this by granting the 8.5% raise for teachers plus the $1,500 retention bonus that I am asking for. This will lift our starting teacher pay to first in the Southeast."

The teacher salary schedule would top out at $58,750 for teachers with 30 years of experience, which is above the currently scheduled figure of $55,950.

"We have 1,000 fewer teachers today than we did six years ago, even though our student population has stayed the same," said State Budget Director Kristin Walker.

Tamika Walker Kelly, the president of the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) said it's a question of respect.

"Our educators across the state talk a lot about feeling undervalued and disrespected," Walker Kelly said.

She noted that the state is expected to see an increase in the early school-age population, furthering the need to better staff classrooms.

"We have seen school-age population relatively stable, relatively consistent. We will start to see that grow," said Walker Kelly.

Cooper also expressed his support for a $2.5 billion school construction bond, aimed at replacing older buildings and reducing the use of trailers.

"It's important to all of our students and our employees work in safe and healthy buildings. It creates a positive environment for everyone to learn and work. And so we are seeing conversations across multiple school districts who are looking to improve the quality of their building, not only for the safety of those who enter the building but also for sustainability in the long term of the district," said Walker Kelly.

Senate President Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, responded to the idea of a bond proposal.

"We've indicated that our priority is to get the state out of the borrowing money business, so I don't think there'd be a lot of support for a bond whether it's for school construction or any other measure," said Berger.

The expiration of pandemic-era federal funding has threatened childcare providers, with Cooper touting measures to address potential effects.

"Nearly a third of North Carolina childcare centers are at risk of closing their doors, which means businesses are going to lose even more parents as employees. The budget I'm recommending today provides childcare stabilization grants to help these centers stay open," said Cooper.

He also called for a moratorium on private school vouchers, though those who are currently utilizing them will be able to continue doing so.

There is $34 million set aside for Propel NC, $4 million to help colleges train students for jobs in the electric vehicle workforce, as well as efforts to assist students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Other areas of focus include increasing unemployment benefits, increasing state employees' pay, and conservation.

"This budget does even more to secure our future preservation of our precious water and land resources. Help for local communities, cleaning up PFAS drinking water pollution investments for future economic development and matching resources to help us draw down federal infrastructure funding," said Cooper.

Ultimately, Cooper's pitch will need to win over Republicans, who hold supermajorities in both chambers and overrode vetoes during the last session.

ABC11's Sean Coffey spoke with Berger on Wednesday to discuss the party's goals in the short session. To learn more, click here.