JLF’s John Hood makes an important point about the 2014-15 General Fund budget plan presented Tuesday by Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis. It’s not just about pay, it’s about reform. 

The provision attracting the lion’s share of attention is an average teacher pay raise of 7 percent, which will cost about $282 million. It works out to roughly $3,500 per teacher, on average. Under different circumstances, I and other fiscal conservatives might have questioned the wisdom of such a large hike in a single year. In the past, politicians have oversold the premise of North Carolina’s underpaid teachers — using national rankings without any attempt to adjust for variances in cost of living, years of experience, and the value of non-wage benefits. They’ve also tended to pour more money into a broken compensation system that put too much emphasis on longevity-based salary schedules at the expense of offering competitive starting salaries and paying teachers more for high performance or challenging jobs.

But in 2014, the circumstances are different. During the lean budget years of the Great Recession and its aftermath, teachers received only a single across-the-board pay raise (in 2012). Even after adjusting for relevant factors, North Carolina’s compensation package has clearly become less competitive. It needed attention this year.

Moreover, legislative leaders and Gov. Pat McCrory didn’t simply propose to hike average pay. They proposed a comprehensive, multi-year effort to reform how we pay teachers — an effort that the 2014-15 budget advances significantly. The outmoded 37 steps of the statewide salary schedule will shrink to six. Early-career teachers will receive an average 14 percent boost over two years. The stage is now set for the legislative and executive branches to continue the reform process by differentiating teacher pay in relation to student performance gains, hard-to-fill jobs, and hard-to-staff schools.

Reform — it’s a recurring theme of the Republican-led General Assembly and Gov. Pat McCrory. And it’s a very welcome theme following decades of government growth, tax hikes, bloat, inefficiency, and failure to prioritize.