A smug, confident Republican leadership on Tuesday released a two-year, compromise spending plan they said delivers the most dollars — $14.2 billion next fiscal year — ever spent on public education in North Carolina.
Overall, the budget proposal calls for spending $24 billion in the first year of the biennium and $24,8 billion the second year.
Under the budget proposal, a compromise between the House and Senate plans, the state would spend $14.8 billion in the second year of the biennium.
The proposal includes an average 2 percent raise for teachers the first year and just under 2 percent the second year.
Pay-as-you-go for school construction
It also calls for using a pay-as-you go scheme to fund much-needed school construction and renovation. Republicans say the funding plan saves the state millions in interest payments.
The House had proposed a bond referendum, which is supported by Gov. Roy Cooper.
Under the pay-as-you go scheme, the state would use money from the State Capital and Infrastructure Fund (SCIF) created in 2017 to pay interest payments on existing debt and fund capital improvements to state-owned buildings.
Senate leaders have said their plan could raise $2 billion for K-12 schools over a nine-year period, and do it faster and cheaper than a referendum.
House Speaker Tim Moore said the compromise budget “infuses” $300 million into the SCIF to help jump start it.
“We feel like that gives it protection going forward so that future general assemblies are going to be bound to fund those things,” Moore said.
He said the budget allocates $1.9 billion of the$3.4 billion in the SCIF to K-12 schools and community colleges.
“This is a serious commitment the state is making, not only to school construction but other investments,” Moore said.
State Sen. Harry Brown, (R-Onslow), one of the architects of the pay-as-you-go proposal, said the plan would generate $4.4 billion for K-12 capital improvements over 10 years.
“All of it is debt free,” Brown said. “That means construction on new schools can start years before bond-financing projects can begin. “This plan avoids wasting millions of dollars in unnecessary interest payments, which would take massive sums of money away from other priorities.”
GOP leaders aggressively wagged fingers at Cooper who they said chose not to bring forward a compromise budget before the end of the fiscal year despite being given several opportunities to do so.
“The governor sent a letter asking that we now delay the budget past the beginning of the new fiscal year,” said Senate leader Phil Berger. “We don’t believe that’s responsible, but we can change the budget at any time if we get a legitimate counter offer.”
Cooper has said Medicaid expansion is critical to his support of any budget proposal. Medicaid expansion has also become a top priority of the N.C. Association of Educators.
Cooper’s spokesperson Fred Porter shared these comments on the budget process on Monday:
“We want a budget that invests in teacher pay instead of more tax cuts for corporations, that has a school and infrastructure bond instead of a slush fund, and that includes Medicaid expansion to insure 500,000 more North Carolinians. Right now, legislative Republicans are not interested in serious negotiations on these issues, but we hope they will change their minds and agree to put everything on the table as Governor Cooper has.
Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue on Tuesday called on Republicans to work with Democrats to find common ground.
“Democrats have been clear about our budget priorities: Medicaid expansion, a statewide school construction bond, and no more corporate tax cuts,” Blue said in a statement. “The conference report fails to acknowledge any of these; and it makes clear that the Republicans don’t understand the value of finding common ground.”
Republicans offered to hold a special session on access to healthcare that includes Medicaid expansion.
Teacher pay raises
State Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, (R-Wilkes), said the compromise budget focuses on the 15-plus veteran teacher. Past efforts to increase teacher pay have focused on beginning and early-career teachers.
“The House presented a very aggressive teacher pay plan by dealing with the veteran teachers, and the Senate has been very good working with us trying to deal with the issue of salary compression,” Elmore said.
Salary compression is when an organization has negligible differences in pay between people who have differing skill sets and/or experience levels.
Elmore said teachers with 0-15 years of experience would receive automatic step increases of $1,000.
Teachers with 16-20 years would receive $500 increases both years, those with 21-24 would get a $1,500 increase the first year and $500 the second. Teachers in steps 25 and above would receive $600 increase.
All increases would be effective July 1.
Those teachers with 25-plus years would also receive $500 bonuses each October of the biennium.
Principals would see pay increases, too. And the state would create a recruitment fund to entice principals to work in low-performing schools.
“We know that it takes strong leadership in the schools to accomplish the goals we need for our children,” Elmore said.