State House Republicans are teaming up with Governor Pat McCrory to help speed up slow budget talks. Legislators are supposed to make adjustments to the two-year state budget by July 1, but progress has been sluggish.
Representatives say they want to at least pass a scaled-down spending plan that focuses on teacher pay. It would give teachers an average five-percent raise without relying on funds from the lottery.
Outside the executive mansion, Gov. Pat McCrory gathered with an entourage of legislators and school leaders to make an announcement. But, first, the Governor spent some time rehashing the state’s commitment to teachers.
“There’s some good news in North Carolina – Republicans, Democrats, the House and Senate and people of NC all agree that we need to better compensate our teachers and we need to develop ways in the long term to respect our teachers,” he said. “There are some differences, however, in the policy implementation.”
The House and Senate have very different plans on how they want to give teachers pay raises. That’s why McCrory and Speaker of the House Thom Tillis came out in this show of solidarity. They say they want to take care of the teacher pay issue before finalizing other pieces of the budget.
“It’s hard to believe but we’re only eight weeks away from opening school again – we have teacher assistants wondering whether or not they’ll have a job. We want to let them know that they do,” he said. “We have teachers maybe making job decisions depending on whether their comp is going to change. We want them to know what it is.”
Senate leader Phil Berger was noticeably absent at the announcement – in fact, no senators were present. They later came out with a statement saying that two people should not attempt to control the budget process behind closed doors.
But the House went ahead and pushed its top spending priorities into a 40-page mini-budget bill.
The bill is almost identical to the teacher pay plan house lawmakers included in their budget. In addition to giving each state employee a thousand dollar raise, they want to give teachers an average five-percent raise, boost their starting salary and give more pay to those with masters’ degrees. But instead of relying on lottery money to fund the raises, they’d pull millions of dollars from reserve accounts and make cuts to state agencies.
Their plan would not cut teacher assistants like the Senate plan does, or ask teachers to give up their job protections.
Outside the legislative building on Wednesday, dozens of teachers held their own gathering. They urged lawmakers to fairly compensate teachers and reverse years of cuts to education.
Tori Mazur, an ESL teacher from Asheboro, said she’s gotten only one raise in the last six years, and that’s when she got her master’s degree. She now makes about $33,000.
“I would love be able to buy a car that would get me to my job and not have to worry about the wear and tear on my car, so I will take a pay raise, but it depends on the strings that are attached to it,” she said.
She said she appreciates that lawmakers are at least prioritizing teacher pay, but remains skeptical. Later, she and dozens of other teachers walked through the legislative building to talk directly to lawmakers.
Some Democratic representatives say the new mini-budget is more realistic because it no longer relies on shaky lottery projections to fund raises. But it’s the Senate leadership that’s going to need the most convincing. They say this House plan doesn’t set aside enough money for Medicaid spending. The bill is expected to go before the House floor later on Thursday.