GOP spending plan offers modest teacher pay raises, no Medicaid expansion

House Speaker Tim Moore (Left) and Senate leader Phil Berger (Right) prepare to share details of the conference report during a press conference Tuesday.

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.

Commentary, Education, News

Uh oh, the sausage biscuits didn’t work. Our budget is still a mess.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger

To hear North Carolina’s legislative leaders put it Tuesday, Gov. Roy Cooper is nowhere to be found.

While these earnest lawmakers toiled on their $24 billion budget compromise in recent days, Cooper was in New York, they complained, as if we could presume that the Democrat couldn’t be pulled from his junket, sunbathing atop the Chrysler Building, pillowed by a pile of “big city liberal” cash.

As if Cooper and company have not been engaged with legislative leaders for days, weeks and months before Cooper’s New York soiree, a political story with all the depth of a Tweet and the nutritional content of a Twinkie.

“We held this off as long as we could, hoping we could get some input from the governor, but here we are today,” groaned Sen. Harry Brown, the Jacksonville Republican who chairs the Senate’s budget panel.

The putrescent hog farms of Duplin County smell better than this.

Whatever you may think of Cooper, it’s a safe assumption that North Carolina’s journalists, and its people, have a memory surpassing that of a fruit fly.

They may recall legislative leaders’ incessant “bad faith” negotiations, the humiliation of HB2, last year’s unprecedented backdoor budgeting in a conference report, the openly gerrymandered maps, the allegations that they deceived a federal court, cuts crafted in the early morning hours to eviscerate political rivals, and the summoning of legislators following a hurricane to revoke powers from the newly-elected Cooper in December 2016.

The Hamburglar has more credibility than these folks.

Even last week’s sausage biscuit bargaining at the Capitol yielded nothing, while staffers for Cooper and legislative Republicans fired potshots on Twitter.

Democrats said Republicans weren’t willing to come to the table; Republicans countered that the governor had made Medicaid expansion — a cacophony in the far-right Republican caucus and nowhere else on this tortured Earth — a central point of negotiations.

“I’d rather have a budget that reflects a portion of our priorities than no budget at all,” Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger told reporters Tuesday.

Education funding was the greatest amount ever spent in North Carolina history,  Speaker Tim Moore boasted. Good, now we’ll have to see if that raw number means a blessed thing when adjusted for inflation, per-pupil spending, and the needs of a school system that’s been underfunded for the lion’s share of Republican reign.

The knowledge that Moore and House lawmakers cracked on school infrastructure makes for a bad start. At least Moore and company were willing to consider a bond referendum for the state’s $8 billion-plus in school infrastructure needs, but the compromise budget’s “pay-as-you-go” Senate spending plan reeks.

We spoke about “bad faith” earlier, and those who can recall the high-stakes, brouhaha over class-size funding in recent years can appreciate why K-12 advocates are not likely to trust that lawmakers will deliver on school construction needs over the next decade without a bond.

The minority party, which has the votes to sustain a veto, was not impressed.

“Democrats have been clear about our budget priorities: Medicaid expansion, a statewide school construction bond, and no more corporate tax cuts,” Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue said Tuesday. “The conference report fails to acknowledge any of these; and it makes clear that Republicans don’t understand the value of finding common ground.”

As of this writing, Cooper had no official statement, but his spokespeople didn’t hold back.

The veto seems a foregone conclusion. But compromise, and a fair one that recognizes the priorities of both parties, is not.


Educators call state House Bill 370 a ‘terrible and reprehensible idea’

Calling it a “terrible and reprehensible” idea, National Education Association (NEA) President Lily Eskelsen and N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE) President Mark Jewell issued a statement Monday urging state lawmakers to vote against House Bill 370, which would require county sheriffs to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement officers on detainment requests.

Eskelsen and Jewell were also critical of President Donald Trump who they said has “weaponized” ICE.

“North Carolina lawmakers are playing politics with the lives of children by proposing an ill-designed, inhumane measure that would in essence make local law enforcement officials an extension of Donald Trump’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE),” the two wrote.

The Senate is expected to vote on the bill later today. If approved, it will go to Gov. Roy Cooper.

Eskelsen and Jewell also said HB 370 has frightened immigrant communities across the country.

“It has wreaked havoc in our schools and immigrant communities across the country. In North Carolina, students are already living in fear due to recent ICE raids,” Eskelsen and Jewell wrote. “They are fearful of going to school. As anxious families turn to educators for solace, comfort and advice, we will continue to raise our voices to defend and protect our students from these inhumane policies which run contrary to the values that we hold dear as a nation.”

HB 370 has received major pushback from the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association.

Here is a memo released by the sheriff’s organization said last.

“House Bill 370 would compel duly elected sheriffs to participate in a voluntary federal law enforcement program,” it states. “The North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association opposes such mandate. The people of each county, as reflected by the decision of their elected sheriff, should retain the ability to decide which lawful method they will utilize in complying with existing federal and state law. Just as the Association opposes any state law requirement to participate in the ICE detainer program, it would also oppose legislation prohibiting sheriffs from participating in the ICE detainer program.”



Teachers enjoy the work, but don’t think they’re appreciated

North Carolina teachers marched for better pay last May.

U.S. teachers like their jobs, even though they don’t think society values the profession.

They also report working more hours than their peers around the world and are more active in pursuit of  higher pay.

Those are just two of the findings of the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) recently released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Researchers targeted teachers in grades 7-9.

They asked teachers and principals in 49 education systems about their working conditions and professional practices. More than 150,000 U.S. teachers and 9,000-plus U.S. principals participated in the survey.

Here is how U.S. teachers responded when asked about job satisfaction:

  • Ninety percent of U.S. lower secondary teachers reported that they are satisfied with their jobs, while 36 percent think that society values the teaching profession.
  • Ninety percent of U.S. lower secondary teachers “agree” or “strongly agree” that they are satisfied with their jobs, which is not measurably different from the TALIS or OECD averages (both 90 percent).
  • In contrast, 36 percent of U.S. lower secondary teachers “agree” or “strongly agree” that society values the teaching profession, which is higher than the OECD average (26 percent) but not measurably different from the TALIS average (32 percent).
  • Job satisfaction was generally high across education systems, ranging from 77 to 98 percent of lower secondary teachers who “agree” or “strongly agree” that they are satisfied with their jobs.
  • The belief that society values the teaching profession varied more widely across TALIS education systems, ranging from 5 to 92 percent of lower secondary teachers who “agree” or “strongly agree” with this sentiment.

To see the full report, go to:

Commentary, Education

NCGA budget proposals are a slap in the face to educators

On May 1, thousands of educators and public education advocates flooded the streets of Raleigh to demand additional resources for North Carolina’s public schools. Organizers from the North Carolina Association of Educators outlined five policy priorities:

  1. Provide enough school librarians, psychologists, social workers, counselors, nurses, and other health professionals to meet national standards.
  2. Provide $15 minimum wage for all school personnel, 5% raise for all public school personnel, and a 5% cost of living adjustment for retirees.
  3. Expand Medicaid to improve the health of our students and families.
  4. Reinstate state retiree health benefits eliminated by the General Assembly in 2017.
  5. Restore advanced degree compensation stripped by the General Assembly in 2013.

Now that the House and Senate budget proposals have been released, it’s clear that General Assembly leaders failed to listen.

As can be seen, the General Assembly proposals fail to reach consensus on any of the policy priorities of the May 1 participants:

  • School support staff: Both proposals make just incremental progress towards filling North Carolina’s shortfall of librarians, psychologists, social workers, counselors, nurses, and other health professionals.
  • Educator compensation: Neither proposal includes extending the $15 minimum wage for state employees to the lowest-paid public school employees. Nor does either proposal provide a 5 percent pay increase in year one for educators. And neither budget includes a permanent COLA for retirees.
  • Medicaid expansion: Neither the House nor the Senate proposals include Medicaid expansion, leaving 500,000 North Carolinians in the coverage gap, harming stability and coverage for countless families.
  • Restore retiree health benefits for new hires: Neither proposal restores retiree health benefits for new hires after January 1, 2021, which will hamper teacher recruitment after that time.
  • Restore master’s supplement for those who started programs after August 1, 2013: The House budget includes restoration of the master’s salary supplement, returning to the policy in place prior to the 2013 repeal. The Senate proposal would not restore the master’s salary supplement.

These budget proposals are a slap in the face those who came out on May 1, filling the streets of Raleigh to demand more adequate support for our schools. Clearly, legislative leaders weren’t happy with teachers’ decision to organize massive rallies in each of the past two years. But unless the General Assembly reverses course and starts listening to the state’s educators, teacher actions are likely to become more frequent and more disruptive in future years. Teachers are clearly fed up with not being provided the resources necessary to help their children succeed. This year’s budget proposals are only going to stoke that fire.