Lawmakers ready to open the short session in Raleigh
RALEIGH — Attorney General Roy Cooper joined fellow Democratic leaders in the legislature Tuesday in calling on Republicans to come up with a plan to raise public school teacher salaries in North Carolina to the national average in the next few years.
Cooper's written comments, released on the eve of this year's General Assembly session, are significant because he's assembling a run for governor in 2016 and has been critical of the policy agenda pushed by the GOP and Gov. Pat McCrory.
The governor announced a teacher plan proposal last week that would raise veteran teacher salaries on average by about 2 percent and envisions a new pay schedule that would raise pay more quickly, retain bonuses and reward the best performing teachers over time.
In a veiled reference to McCrory's proposal, Cooper said the state doesn't need "Band-Aid solutions, one-time bonuses and pilot programs" that may take years to raise pay for some teachers.
"It's time to demand action from the governor and the legislature, not just talk," Cooper said in an email to supporters urging them to sign a petition.
Cooper's statement mirrored the message of House Minority Leader Larry Hall, D-Durham, and Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, D-Wake, at a Tuesday afternoon news conference. Hall said there is a teacher pay "crisis" and called the average 2 percent pay raise offered by McCrory for next year "pitiful."
North Carolina's average teacher pay of $45,737 during the 2012-13 school year ranks 46th among the state and District of Columbia.
"This is an emergency. We need significant pay raises now for our teachers," Hall said. "We need our best and brightest teachers to stay now. We need a dedicated plan that reaches that goal."
Blue, Hall or Cooper didn't provide a method to find the revenues to reach the goal.
Hall said he wasn't calling on colleagues to roll back tax rate reductions passed by Republicans last year, although he and Blue criticized Republicans for passing the tax changes they say benefit the wealthiest. Hall said McCrory and legislative leaders need to work together and make the national average goal a priority.