House Speaker Thom Tillis partnered with Gov. Pat McCrory today to announce their efforts to work together toward a teacher pay plan they characterized as responsible and affordable—but key details of the House’s new mini-budget proposal, unveiled today, remain unclear.
“We’ve been preparing plans from not inside the beltline but outside the beltline – by listening to the experts who are closest to the action, who are every day inside the classroom,” said McCrory, who was flanked by Speaker Tillis, State Board of Education Chair Bill Cobey, State Superintendent June Atkinson as well as lawmakers, school superintendents, teachers and other education advocates from around the state.
McCrory called on local superintendents and teachers to support his proposed teacher pay plan, which would work toward implementing career pathways that reward teachers for performance as well as experience and avoid cutting teacher assistants, unlike the Senate proposal which would slash TAs in the second and third grades.
Tillis followed McCrory by stepping up to the podium to announce his revised “mini-budget” that would be unveiled later in the afternoon in the House appropriations committee.
Calling it a consensus bill that people on Main Street would support, Tillis said his revised legislation would give teachers a raise but take the lottery funds off the table to do that. He would also preserve funds for teacher assistants.
“I know it’s hard to believe, but we are eight weeks away from school opening,” said Tillis. “I want to let TAs know that they have a job.”
The House and Governor’s budget proposals are different, but share a lot more in common than they do with the Senate version, which Sen. Berger recently championed in an op-ed in the Charlotte Observer.
The Senate wants to give teachers an average 11 percent raise, but at a steep price: teachers would have to give up their tenure to get the raise, and funding for teachers assistants would be cut in half, eliminating more than 7,000 jobs across the state.
The House’s original plan would give teachers an average five percent raise this fall, but relied on increased lottery revenues to do it, sparking considerable controversy from those who believed it was too risky a gamble to rely on unsecured funds for a recurring expense.
Today, Speaker Tillis said the lottery funds were no longer part of his teacher pay plan in his revised mini-budget, which keeps much of what he proposed for education in 2014 but draws on different fund sources to do it.
“There was a debate about the lottery proceeds, and we’ve taken that off the table. The additional lottery proceeds are not needed to do this bill,” said Tillis.
In the House Appropriations meeting where lawmakers were presented with the revised mini-budget, it wasn’t immediately evident how lottery funds were actually taken off the table.
The legislation still transfers $116 million from lottery funds to pay for teacher salary increases and career pathways.
The mini-budget also revises the revenue forecast upward by almost $58 million and calls for $361 million in cuts to state government.
More troubling, said Rep. Rick Glazier (D-Cumberland), was what was not in the bill. Cuts made to various services in the two-year budget that was passed last year would remain, unless they were directly addressed in the mini-budget bill.
“There are large cuts to the university system and cuts to public schools,” said Glazier, who was concerned that those education leaders who appeared at the McCrory/Tillis press conference may have not thought those through.
“This document is a one year fix to move us forward…and that bothers me immensely,” added Glazier.
Funds were also appropriated back into the K-12 budget that were originally taken away to pay for school vouchers, also known as “Opportunity Scholarships.”
Presumably funds for the vouchers will be pulled from somewhere else in the $21+ billion budget, and WRAL reports that additional funds were appropriated to expand the voucher program for this fall.
The House Appropriations committee passed the mini-budget, and it’s expected to hit the House floor tomorrow.