RALEIGH — A state budget approved by the N.C. House of Representatives on Friday joins a Senate plan and recommendations issued by Gov. Pat McCrory in raising pay for North Carolina’s teachers.
That budget, at $21 billion, will return to the Senate next week, where negotiations to hammer out a final state budget prior to July 1 will begin.
The budget approved by a majority of Senate members at the end of last month supported an average 11-percent raise for teachers provided that they relinquish their tenure. That raise would also come at the expense of the state’s teaching assistants, who would lose $19 million in funding statewide — $890,000 in Scotland County.
“I think everybody realizes that we have a teacher pay crisis in North Carolina; we’re losing too many teachers to surrounding states, we’re not competitive, and we’re also not offering a competitive enough salary to attract young people into the profession,” said state Sen. Gene McLaurin of Rockingham. “That’s clear and has been acknowledged by, I think, everybody in the House and the Senate.”
The House plan repeals 2013 legislation which would phase out teacher tenure by 2018, increasing teacher salaries by an average of 5 percent and leaving teacher assistants relatively unscathed. Instead, the House budgeted $106 million more in revenues from the state education lottery, doubling the amount of advertising to entice more people to play.
That plan relies on a 25 percent increase in total lottery revenue.
“I think it will be fine — we already use $200 million in lottery money, and if the increase in advertising does not generate the increase in revenue that the budget writers think, there’s still money there that can be transferred to cover the increase,” said state Rep. Ken Goodman of Rockingham, who regards the House budget as a marked increase over the Senate version. “I would have found another way, but that’s what we have.”
Recommendations from the governor reflected just under a 4 percent average raise.
In the House budget, teachers’ pay will remain static during their first five years of teaching, after which pay will increase steadily through year 36. Revived in that budget are the N.C. Teaching Fellows Program, which awards full college scholarships to students in exchange for in-state teaching service, as well as bonuses for teachers with master’s and doctoral degrees in the subject they teach.
The Senate budget includes 7.1 percent pay increases for each of a teacher’s first three years, followed by 10 to 20 percent raises from years four to 24.
State Rep. Garland Pierce, of Wagram, did not return calls on Friday, but voted against the House budget and in a press release voiced opposition to many of the measures included, including predicating teachers’ raises on “speculative” lottery revenues.
“Unfortunately, the Republican Leadership in this body continues to point North Carolina in the wrong direction,” he said. “They present a teacher pay plan in a political year that doesn’t adequately address the teacher crisis in North Carolina — it simply kicks the can down the road. Had they not chosen to give tax breaks to the wealthy, corporations and special interest they wouldn’t have had to pay for teacher pay raises on the backs of working people in North Carolina.”
McLaurin, though relieved that the House found a way around cuts to teacher assistants, echoed Pierce’s sentiments.
“We’ve got to come up with a sustainable, long-term plan to raise teacher pay to the national average and I’m concerned that relying on the uncertainty of lottery proceeds is just not the way to accomplish that,” he said. “I think to rely on the hope that more revenues would come from lotteries is not only unsustainable and uncertain but it does primarily appeal to those who are least able to afford it.”
According to Scotland County Schools Finance Officer Jay Toland, the education lottery has proven a reliable and consistent source of funding to the school system. However, he did not voice confidence regarding the expectation that additional advertising will result in a commensurate revenue increase.
Goodman said that he attempted to offer an amendment to reassign $10 million earmarked for private school vouchers to teaching positions. Though that measure did not receive general support, the expenditure of public money on private education may be declared unconstitutional.
“The constitution says that public money can be used only for public education,” Goodman said. “I feel that will be upheld in court.”
Among other reservations held by both Goodman and Pierce are a transfer of the State Bureau of Investigation from the Attorney General’s office to the governor’s Department of Public Safety. The transfer is included in both the House and the Senate budgets.
“I think that’s a very dangerous move to transfer that to the authority of the governor,” Goodman said. “It hasn’t been too long since the SBI investigated Governor (Mike) Easley and Governor (Bev) Perdue, and that’s going to be a lot harder to do now that the governor appoints the people who are in charge of the SBI.
“The trouble with the budget is you have to vote it up or down as a whole.”
Both budgets also provide for pay increases of about $1,000 to other state employees, including law enforcement, Department of Transportation, corrections, and court staff.
The House budget also removes a Senate provision that would eliminate the governor’s cost-saving provisions and remove 15,000 people from Medicaid eligibility — a move which McLaurin applauded.
“I don’t want to balance the budget on the backs of the elderly, the disabled, nor the teacher assistants,” McLaurin said.
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-276-2311, ext. 17. Follow her on Twitter @emkaylbg.