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Editorial: Cooler heads needed in contentious budget debate

With another day of negotiations on tap, the Wilmington Star News says it’s time for state representatives and senators to end their posturing and find some common ground. The editorial board writes that the current budget logjam has only served to create more uncertainty for educators and North Carolina’s public schools. Here an excerpt from Thursday’s editorial:

Budget cutsIt was encouraging news when, on Tuesday, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, announced that the House and Senate had agreed not to tie a teacher pay increase to tenure. The stipulation had been inserted by the Senate, which until Tuesday stood firm by its decision. While the two sides still had much to discuss – not the least of which was the Senate’s insistence on cutting funding for teacher assistants – they had cleared one roadblock.

That kumbaya moment didn’t last long.

Senate leaders walked out on the budget talks Wednesday morning, an indication that this will be a very long “short session.” House members of the conference committee wanted to hear from superintendents about the education budget; Senate leaders countered that it would be against the rules and walked out in a huff.

They returned, but news media covering the talks reported that the mood was much less harmonious.

By law, the General Assembly is supposed to have a budget in place by July 1, the start of the 2014-15 fiscal year. It is not unusual for negotiations to drag the process out a few weeks, but typically by this point there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Based on the current stalemate, things don’t look promising for a spending plan anytime soon.

Gov. Pat McCrory and the state House have stood together on one side, while the Senate’s budget contained significant differences in how to handle education and Medicaid, among other things. The conference committee reached an agreement on Medicaid last week, though it still falls short. Nevertheless, it was progress.

Likewise, it seemed Tuesday that the Honorables were moving toward a budget agreement. Then it was back to square one.

The House is right to object to severe cuts in funding for teacher assistants. Regardless of a study senators tout that said teacher assistants have no measurable improvement on student achievement, teachers know they are an invaluable resource, particularly in classrooms where a large percentage of children need help catching up academically. As more pressure is put on teachers and students to Pass That Test, teacher assistants give their education partners the one thing no pay raise can: time – time to spend working in small groups or individually with students.

Yet, if the House and Senate can’t sit down long enough to discuss the issue, school systems won’t even be sure what money they will and won’t have to spend next year. Let us hope that calmer heads and a spirit of compromise for the good of the people prevail. Uncertainty is no way to run state government.

Read the full editorial here.

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