North Carolina’s General Assembly leadership likes to tout its record of “fiscal responsibility .” A closer look at the 2017 budget’s teacher pay plan, however, shows that the salary plans are dangerously underfunded. Under-funding a $5.3 billion line-item is the opposite of fiscal responsibility.
The General Assembly has budgeted  $101.7 million to implement its 2017-18 salary schedule . It is unclear how this number was derived. Had the General Assembly used the same methodology as used in the previous three budgets, it should have budgeted at least $115.4 million to implement the first-year teacher salary schedule. The problem is repeated in the budget’s second year. The General Assembly budgets just $372.6 million to implement its 2018-19 salary schedule , but the cost is likely to be closer to $387.0 million.
If anything, lawmakers should consider being more conservative in how they estimate teacher pay plans. Preliminary data from the December pay period indicates that the General Assembly under-budgeted teacher salaries by about $8 million in FY 16-17. If that holds true, this would mark the first time the General Assembly has underfunded the teacher allotment in over twenty years.
It is unclear whether the General Assembly is also under-funding its pay plan for principals and assistant principals. Neither the General Assembly’s nonpartisan Fiscal Research Division, nor the Department of Public Instruction, have released the data necessary to assess the fiscal soundness of these plans.
If the General Assembly’s fiscal irresponsibility creates a hole in the budget, the Governor’s budget office will have to implement mid-year budget cuts in other areas to ensure that teachers continue to receive their promised salaries. Should that come to pass, let’s be clear that the blame will lay with the General Assembly’s reckless budgeting practices, and not with the Governor acting to fix the General Assembly’s self-inflicted mess.
It’s important to remember that the General Assembly’s teacher pay plan represents a broken promise to North Carolina’s teachers. In the spring of 2016, Senator Phil Berger unveiled a plan to bring average teacher pay to $54,224 in the 17-18 school year . This budget fails to meet Senator Berger’s promise. Under the 2017 budget plan, average teacher pay will likely fall a little under $50,900 in the 17-18 school year.
Of course, following the November 2016 election, the two-year plan to bring average teacher pay to $54,224 by FY 17-18 became a three-year plan to bring average teacher pay to “nearly $55,000” by FY 18-19 . After North Carolina’s citizens voted, General Assembly leaders changed their story . Still, the General Assembly’s teacher pay plan fails to meet the terms of this new, less ambitious promise. The second year of raises in this year’s budget will likely bring the statewide average teacher pay to a little under $53,300 in FY 18-19, which only the most blinkered partisans would describe as “nearly $55,000.” Given this year’s $552 million budget surplus, General Assembly leaders have no excuse for breaking these promises.
Sadly, the budget’s underfunded, under-delivering teacher pay plan is probably the best thing the 2017 budget has going for it . Instead of keeping promises to teachers, funding elementary school enhancement teachers  (another broken promise), or restoring school resources  to the levels before the 2010 change in General Assembly leadership, the budget is focused on tax cuts  and pork .
Should Governor Cooper veto the budget, General Assembly leaders should take the opportunity to re-dedicate themselves to fiscal responsibility and to their past promises to teachers.