Rep. Gary Pendleton (R-Wake)
(photo from

In a meeting Wednesday where House lawmakers discussed key differences between the two chambers’ 2015-17 budget proposals, Rep. Gary Pendleton (R-Raleigh) said he was all for eliminating retiree medical benefits for future teachers and state employees.

“That’s something that should have been done a long time ago,” said Pendleton after legislative staff outlined the differences between salaries and benefits in the House and Senate budgets.

Senate lawmakers have included in their budget proposal eliminating retiree health care for teachers and state employees who are hired after January 1, 2016.

Proponents of the idea cite an unfunded liability of $25.5 billion associated with the retiree health fund and the need to find ways to reduce that cost. But opponents say cutting retiree health benefits will make it much harder to attract and retain good teachers and state employees.

[Click here and here for more background on the Senate’s proposal to eliminate retiree health care for future state employees and teachers]

Some of the other key differences between the House and Senate budget proposals discussed Wednesday largely revolved around education.

Driver’s education. House lawmakers appeared to be unlikely to waver on their position of keeping driver’s ed fully funded. The Senate is proposing to abandon funding it altogether and eliminate the requirement for driver training in order to get a license.

Chief budget writer Rep. Nelson Dollar (R-Cary)  cited the Senate’s move as a “major concern” and Rep. John Torbett (R-Gaston)  noted that during the last session, House lawmakers came up with a new funding mechanism for driver’s ed that didn’t include using highway fund dollars, which seemed to please everyone. Now, said Torbett, the Senate is abandoning driver’s ed altogether.

Dr. Bob Shackleford, president of Randolph Community College, said they don’t have the infrastructure or funds to take on providing driver’s education, as the Senate is suggesting.

Teacher assistants. Superintendents, a principal, teacher and TA all spoke out against the Senate’s plan to cut TA jobs by more than 8,500 over the next two years, explaining their critical role in making sure that young students, especially those with special needs, get one-on-one learning time in order to succeed.

The Senate proposes taking some of the money associated with the eliminated TA jobs and putting that toward reducing class size—a move that they say would produce better academic outcomes for students.

But Rep. Pendleton pointed out that there’s an additional cost associated with building out the classrooms and schools that would be needed to accommodate the additional small classes.

Wake County Schools Superintendent Jim Merrill said that cost would be significant—about $100 million to accommodate 145 new teachers, in accordance with the Senate’s budget.

For more key differences, check out comparison documents discussed yesterday that are located on the General Assembly’s website here.

Rep. Mickey Michaux (D-Durham) interrupted budget discussions yesterday to ask the question that is on everyone’s mind: when is this thing [budget negotiations] gonna end?

“I don’t want to play Santa Claus here,” said Michaux. “You’ll be home for Christmas,” Dollar responded.


As Governor Perdue ponders whether to veto the General Assembly’s 2012-13 budget or allow it to become law, state Superintendent June Atkinson has a good rundown on her blog about what the budget includes, and what it simply leaves out of next year’s spending needs:

What the budget includes:

  • A 1.2 percent increase for teachers;
  • A reduction of a little more than a quarter in the so-called discretionary reduction, meaning school districts will have to return to the state $359.7 million of the dollars appropriated to them by the General Assembly instead of the more than $500 million that was previously scheduled; and
  • New funds have been provided for third grade reading support.

What is not included in the budget that will have a major impact on local schools:

  • $259 million in federal EduJobs money used to support school-based personnel is gone and will not be replaced, money sufficient to pay some 5,400 school-based employees (before these positions were paid with EduJobs dollars they were paid with state funds);
  • Local school systems will have 80 percent less money than they have had in the past to purchase textbooks and other instructional support materials;
  • Money for instructional materials and supplies has been cut by 40 percent, meaning teachers and parents will have to dig even deeper into their own pockets to make sure classroom tasks are accomplished or students will have to do without;
  • No new dollars have been included to support after school or summer learning opportunities to prevent summer reading learning loss in the early elementary years, kindergarten, first and second grades, despite new retention policies at the third grade;
  • We are asked in the budget to give a letter grade to our schools but no funds are included for the test needed to evaluate or grade our high schools after ninth grade.

Dr. Atkinson also wants policymakers and parents alike to be aware that growth continues to be an issue for the state’s public schools. She notes that North Carolina’s public schools will serve 12,000 more students in the coming school year than they did they year before, and the state will soon surpass 1.5 million students.