Cooper’s budget proposal calls for more education, childcare funding

AP Photo/Stephanie Scarbrough

By Dylan Rhoney

April 25, 2024

As the state faces a teacher shortage, a childcare funding crisis, and state employee retention issues, Gov. Cooper introduced his plan to address these issues.

As the North Carolina General Assembly went back into session on Wednesday, Governor Roy Cooper unveiled a proposed budget adjustment that would boost funding for the state’s education and childcare systems and raise wages for state workers.

Earlier this month, the Office of State Budget and Management announced that the state would have around a $1 billion dollar surplus.

Cooper wants to use that money to boost spending for public schools, provide significant increases for teacher pay, and give state workers a 5% pay raise. With some pandemic-era funding for childcare centers ceasing on June 30th, Cooper is also calling for state funding to help prevent the the closure of hundreds of childcare centers across North Carolina, and to provide support for families struggling to afford childcare services.

With Republicans holding a supermajority in both the House and Senate, it is unlikely that many of Cooper’s proposals will become a reality.

Senate Republican Leader Phil Berger was critical of the proposed increase in spending in the governor’s budget.

“I can just tell you that we do not intend to go down that path,” he said following the release of the proposal.

Cooper calls for more education funding

Cooper’s proposal calls for the legislature to make significant investments in public education through increases in teacher pay and overall funding.

North Carolina’s beginning teacher pay ranks 46th nationally, and next to last among the 12 southeastern states.

To remedy this, Cooper calls for starting teacher pay to be raised from $39,000 to $46,000 annually through a $322.7 million dollar investment, and for the legislature to invest $10 million dollars to restore increased pay for teachers with master’s degrees. In 2013, North Carolina became the first state in the US to eliminate master’s pay for teachers, which meant educators who acquired a master’s degree would no longer be paid a higher salary for acquiring an advanced degree.

The poor wages are having a devastating effect on the state’s teaching workforce. Earlier this month, it was revealed that 1 in 9 teachers in North Carolina left the profession between March 2022 and March 2023, a 47% increase over the year prior.

State Rep. Lindsey Prather, a Democrat who represents Western Buncombe County in the North Carolina House, believes poor pay is the leading cause.

“It is absolutely the biggest driver, and I think having a higher starting teacher salary would make a huge difference,” she said.

A recent report from the Education Law Center also showed the state spends $4,695 less per pupil than the national average, ranking 48th in the nation in that category.

Cooper’s budget calls for $34.7 million in additional funding to expand the Read to Achieve program to include reading proficiency assessment for 4th and 5th graders, $5 million to fund teacher residency programs in both urban and rural counties in order to help expand the state’s teacher workforce.

In North Carolina, residency licenses provide aspiring teachers the ability to acquire a teaching license in the state without necessarily having a teaching degree. In order to receive one, the applicant must fulfill all the requirements outlined by state law.

Cooper’s budget adjustment also calls for $1.7 million to help recruit teachers to smaller and low-wealth counties.

North Carolina’s childcare funding cliff

On June 30th, federal COVID-19 relief money that funded worker pay increases at the state’s childcare centers will run out. As a result, 29% of childcare centers say they won’t be able to remain open if the General Assembly doesn’t intervene.

Cooper is calling for $200 million in funding or stabilization grants to help childcare centers boost wages and benefits for their teachers.

Furthermore, the governor is asking the legislature to increase funding for the Child Care Subsidy by $128.5 million dollars to help families pay for childcare services.

According to NC Child, an advocacy organization that works across the state to support childhood education, the cost of childcare has soared by 32% in the state since 2019.

The lack of affordable childcare impacts not just families, but entire communities and businesses too.

“Investing in childcare and early childhood education is good for the kids, it’s good for the parents, because the parents have somewhere to bring their kids, and they can then work, which means it’s also good for employers across the entire state because they’re able to have employees who can actually come to work because their kids have somewhere to go, but also it means that employees are able to focus on the work that their doing, and productivity is higher,” Rep. Prather said.

Support for State Employees

Last year, nearly 25% of state jobs were vacant, leading to employee shortages across the board.

In addition to the current employee shortages, the state could see more vacancies in the coming years. Twenty-five percent of current state workers will be eligible to retire within the next five years.

In last year’s budget, the legislature approved a 4% raise for most state workers in 2023, and an additional 3% raise in 2024.

In 2023, the turnover rate across state departments was 32.7% for first-year state workers, and nearly 14% overall.

Cooper’s latest plan calls for additional raises and funding to retain state workers. The governor’s proposal asks for a 5% raise in addition to those provided by last year’s budget.

Furthermore, for state workers making $75,000 per year or less, he recommends a $1,500 retention bonus. Those making above $75,000 are to be provided a $1,000 bonus.


  • Dylan Rhoney

    Dylan Rhoney is an App State grad from Morganton who is passionate about travel, politics, history, and all things North Carolina. He lives in Raleigh.



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