Details are scarce, but Senate Republicans tout big investments in teacher pay, K-12 funding

Senate President Phil Berger

State Senate Republicans touted major investments in teacher and administrator pay, as well as overall public school funding, in a $22.9 billion budget proposal presented Tuesday afternoon.

While details of the budget plan aren’t expected for release until late Tuesday, Senate GOP leaders announced the broad planks of their two-year spending package, which increases the state’s spending by about half the amount included in Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget proposal.

“We understand that some want to spend more than this budget spends,” said Senate President Phil Berger, R-Guilford, Rockingham, Tuesday.

“But memories can be short. We have not forgotten the mess we found in 2011, the result of years of spending growth at unsustainable levels, and we feel strongly that when government collects more than it needs, some of that money should be returned to the taxpayers.”

GOP leaders said the two year-plan increases overall public education funding by $600 million, giving an average 3.7 percent teacher pay raise in the first year. Berger said the budget will also include “significant” raises for the state’s principals, a nod to recent reports that the state’s principal pay ranks last in the country.

Meanwhile, Sen. Harry Brown, the influential eastern N.C. Republican who co-chairs the Senate budget committee, said the plan will include financial incentives for teachers in low-performing schools and in other hard-to-staff areas, such as special needs and science and math instruction.

Lawmakers added that they will not back down on controversial plans to expand the state’s annual investment in private school vouchers from about $44 million this year to $144 million by 2027-2028 , a major point of contention for public school advocates who point out the mostly religious schools operate without the same scrutiny or anti-discrimination protections.

It will also increase the state’s funding for textbooks and digital resources with $10 million in recurring funds, Brown said, following frequent complaints from K-12 advocates that the state’s classroom funding has fallen woefully short.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown, R-Jones, Onslow

Also of import, Brown said the budget will “codify” Senate leadership’s intent to gather data on funding needs for elementary “specialty” teachers in arts and physical education, following a compromise over class-size funding last month that included GOP promises to consider a new funding allotment for the endangered classroom positions.

Without that compromise on House Bill 13, local school districts said thousands of specialty elementary teachers’ jobs would have been lost.

State Senators are expected to move swiftly on the budget plan. Days ago, the chamber’s leadership indicated they hoped to pass the budget through committees and on the Senate floor by the end of the week, setting up a breakneck pace for a budget that has, as of this writing, yet to be released publicly.

The N.C. Democratic Party responded quickly Tuesday, blasting Republicans for authoring a budget plan that they say favors the wealthy and corporations over the middle class.

“Senate Republicans have prioritized tax giveaways for millionaires and corporations over important investments in our state,” the party’s executive director, Kimberly Reynolds, said in a statement. “Governor Cooper’s common sense budget is a blueprint to boost our growing state to make sure we can keep up and keep our economy strong. It’s unfortunate that Senate Republicans are more focused on helping the wealthy at the expense of working families.”

Democrats also pointed out that some estimates have placed a budget hole of up to $600 million created by the Senate’s sweeping tax cuts, which are likely to get a chilly reception in the state House of Representatives.

It’s likely the tax cuts will be the largest sticking point when House and Senate Republicans meet in conference committee in the coming weeks, although House leadership has indicated they hope to have a final budget approved for Gov. Cooper by mid-June.

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