As budget-talks head toward the weekend, Governor Pat McCrory took the unusual step Thursday of issuing a press Tillis_McCrory_Berger-400release pledging to veto the Senate’s budget proposal, if those were somehow the final numbers to come out of the budget-writers’ conference committee.

Earlier in the day, the House agreed to move to a six-percent pay raise for teachers, but leaders have yet to say where they would shift money from to cover the higher amount.

And McCrory has made it clear that it’s the new House plan he supports:

“The Senate is currently standing by themselves with no visible support outside of the Beltline of our state capital.”

“I will veto the latest Senate plan or any plan that resembles it because I know of no financial way we can go beyond the House proposal without eliminating thousands of teacher assistants, cutting Medicaid recipients and putting at risk future core state services,” said the governor in a press release.

Meanwhile the Senate released its sixth budget offer on Thursday, still sticking to the higher raises that Gov. McCrory has said are ‘not realistic.’

Stay tuned…

If you’re trying to get up to speed on this week’s colorful and cantankerous state budget negotiations, here are three quick takeaways:

Budget conferees are expected to meet again today, though an exact time has not been announced. The NC House goes into session at 11:00 a.m., the Senate at 2:00 p.m.

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.

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Budget negotiations resume Wednesday morning with Senate and House members still at odds over how much of a bump in pay teachers will receive.

One of the sticking points Tuesday centered on the Senate’s proposal to pay for those raises by eliminating about 7,400 teacher assistants.

Stokes County Rep. Bryan Holloway said that would hamstring local school superintendents and make it more difficult for teachers to teach:

“I really just think the TAs are important; I think having an extra hand is an asset to a teacher,” argued Rep. Holloway while jockeying for the House’s latest budget proposal.

Sen. Harry Brown countered that the value of teaching assistants was being overstated:

“There are lots of studies out there that look at teacher assistants and what kind of impact it has on student results. And most of them, if not all of them, will tell you that it has very little to do with student results,” countered the Onslow County Republican.

To hear a portion of Tuesday’s budget hearing, click below. For the latest on the budget talks, read this piece by NC Policy Watch education reporter Lindsay Wagner. Wagner will be covering Wednesday’s conference committee hearing.

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The good folks at the N.C. Budget & Tax Center are out with a new information graphic this week detailing the roadblocks facing students on their way to a high-quality education. The graphic (below) follows students as they travel through the K-12 system toward a two- or four-year college degree, showing how budget choices by NC lawmakers are making it harder and harder to educate our children.

Education Investments