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.

Commentary, News

School-vouchers1. State’s highest court upholds school voucher program despite lack of accountability and standards

In a 4-3 decision that defies principles of accountability to taxpayers and students alike, the elected Republican justices of the state Supreme Court today upheld a school voucher program that allows taxpayer dollars to fund tuition for private schools having virtually no obligation to provide North Carolina students with even a basic education.

Chief Justice Mark Martin, writing for the majority and joined by Justices Robert Edmunds, Paul Newby and Barbara Jackson, couched the opinion in terms of judicial restraint and deference to the legislature, saying that the court’s role was “limited to a determination of whether the legislation is plainly and clearly prohibited by the constitution.” [Continue reading…]

Tillman_edu2. Senate bill proposes ending DPI control of charter school oversight

Administration and oversight for public charter schools has been handled by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction for years — but Senator Jerry Tillman, a longtime supporter of charter schools, wants to change that.

“DPI was never in love…with charter schools,” Sen. Tillman (R-Randolph) said in a Senate Education Committee hearing on Tuesday as he introduced to fellow lawmakers a gutted version of House Bill 334, which would transfer the Office of Charter Schools out of the Department of Public Instruction, placing it under the State Board of Education. [Continue reading…]

ff-723153. Still no urgency in Raleigh with budget almost a month late 

At first glance, it seemed like just another disturbing week at the General Assembly.

A Senate committee approved a plan to give homebuilders a tax break that will cost local governments millions of dollars a year, another Senate committee passed a bill to weaken the state’s already anemic gun laws, and another panel considered a proposal to block state environmental officials from developing plans to cut carbon emissions in response to forthcoming rules from the EPA.

That’s all sadly business as usual these days in the legislative halls. And it didn’t stop there. [Continue reading…]

budget-pie4. State government shutdown ahead? Budget office gets ready for possibility

A memorandum from the state budget office issued earlier this month asks state agencies to let them know what’s essential and what’s not, in the event a budget stalemate leads to a government shutdown.

The July 14 memorandum (scroll down to read) asks agencies to go through their operations, and report back about public safety and essential services need to continue on in the event of a funding stoppage –things like keeping on the staff who feed animals at the N.C. State Zoo, emergency responders in the highway patrol and prison guards.[Continue reading…]

wb-721B5. A $60 million rip-off
The state Treasurer combats a stunning money grab by the insurance industry

If there’s a single most maddening and nonsensical argument regularly advanced by the far right, so-called “free market” think tanks funded by the Art Popes and Koch Brothers of the world, it’s probably this: the ideology-over-common sense contention that the “genius of the market” makes most consumer protection laws unnecessary.

Whether it’s airplane pilot rest, meat inspections or 400% “payday” loans, it’s generally the position of the market fundamentalists that “the market” and “consumer choice” will pretty much take care of everything. Put bluntly, once a cut rate airliner or two goes down (or a few hundred folks contract salmonella or Mad Cow Disease) consumers will wise up and take their business elsewhere. [Continue reading…]

NC Budget and Tax Center

Revenues that fuel the state budget are growing so slowly that they are not even keeping pace with population-plus-inflation growth, according to Barry Boardman who is the chief economist for the state legislature’s non-partisan Fiscal Research Division. Weak economic growth and tax cuts are keeping state revenues low, Boardman explained during a presentation that he gave to lawmakers earlier this week.

More tax cuts are looming too—a move that will sustain the damaging trend of slow revenue growth that makes it harder to meet basic needs and build a stronger economy. The House and Senate leadership put forward budgets that included additional tax cuts totaling approximately $652 million and $950 million, respectively, over the next two years.

The presentation shows that during the immediate years before the Great Recession, state revenues were growing faster than the inflation-plus-population benchmark. At that time, the state tax code was better suited and comprised of a progressive income tax based on ability to pay. The trend reversed after the 2008 fiscal year, with the population-plus-inflation growth rate outpacing revenue growth. The economic downturn caused revenues to plummet. And before revenues were able to fully recover back to pre-recession levels, lawmakers cut taxes deeply as part of the 2013 tax plan.

Revenues are not expected to outpace population-plus-inflation growth in either of the next two years; they are expected to remain below the long-run historical average. Read More


A memorandum from the state budget office issued earlier this month asks state agencies to let them know what’s essential and what’s not, in the event a budget stalemate leads to a government shutdown.

budget-pieThe July 14 memorandum (scroll down to read) asks agencies to go through their operations, and report back about public safety and essential services need to continue on in the event of a funding stoppage –things like keeping on the staff who feed animals at the N.C. State Zoo, emergency responders in the highway patrol and prison guards.

Agencies need to provide their responses by Monday, which need to include estimates about what would happen if funding is halted for a week, or longer.

Preparing for a budget stalemate is a lot different from how the state prepares for other emergencies, state budget director Lee Roberts wrote in the July 14 memorandum.

“For a budget contingency plan, we must instead identify the minimum functions and services that must be performed for immediate response to issues of public lives or safety, or to avoid catastrophic loss of state property, and the associated personnel required to carry out these tasks,” Roberts wrote in the memorandum. “This includes the number of personnel required to perform these functions at the critical level, as well as administrative staff that support those critical functions.”

He takes care to point out that the chance of government shutdown because of the current budget negotiations is unlikely, and his request is intended to make sure a contingency plan is available in case things fall apart on the federal or state level.

But it’s certainly not an unprecedented scenario, as North Carolinians found out in 2013 when the federal government stopped running.

Read More


The Fayetteville Observer took a closer look this weekend at how things will play out at local elementary schools if Cumberland County and surrounding areas are forced to cut hundreds of teacher assistants from classrooms in exchange for reducing class sizes.

Many say sacrificing TAs for smaller classes isn’t a good tradeoff.

“The perceived benefit of hiring more teachers would be minimal,” said Todd Yardis, Baldwin Elementary’s principal.

For one thing, he said, whenever the budget is approved, it will be after Baldwin’s school year has started. If the school then has to add classes to reduce class sizes, it would be chaotic for students and teachers alike, he said.

Yardis said mid- to late summer isn’t an ideal time to hire good teachers, especially if hundreds of other elementary schools in the state are also looking to hire. Most of the good teachers will already have landed jobs, he said.

“We’re having trouble finding teachers as it is,” he said.

Yardis doesn’t think smaller class sizes would alleviate the problems created by the loss of teacher assistants.

“The research says, and I’ve seen it myself, if you reduce class size by a few kids, it doesn’t change what the teacher does,” Yardis said. “If you’re talking to 20 kids, or 17 kids, the teacher is saying the same thing.”

But a teacher assistant can work one-on-one or in small groups with struggling children, freeing the teacher to teach the rest of the class.

“They’re really instructional assistants,” Yardis said. “Their number one job is to work with children.”

Yardis also said years ago, each classroom had more teacher assistants, which was especially important because many young children need intensive one-on-one support to succeed.

Senate lawmakers have proposed a 2015-17 budget that would cut more than 8,500 teacher assistants’ jobs in exchange for reducing class size.

The June 30 end of the fiscal year has already come to pass, and lawmakers passed a continuing resolution to keep state government operations running but failed to clarify what local school districts should expect when it comes to funding for teacher assistants.

Winston-Salem/Forsyth schools have already laid off 30 teacher assistants, and school officials hope that more layoffs aren’t on the horizon.

“We still have our fingers crossed that the compromise (budget) will not cut deeper than 110 positions,” Crutchfield said.

Crutchfield said the district would have to lay people off after they were already planning to report to work in August.

At Wednesday’s rally, teacher assistants across the state said they don’t know whether or not they’ll have a job in a month.

Diane Pfundstein, a retired teacher assistant who came back part-time at Mineral Springs Elementary School last year, said officials at her school said they’re not sure if there will be a job for her when school starts in August.

“It’s very sad,” she said. “There are so many issues now. Teachers need an extra person (in the classroom).”

The Associated Press reports that it’s the third year in a row that Senate and House leaders can’t agree on how to fund teacher aides. In the last seven years, lawmakers have reduced funding for state-funded TAs by 32 percent.

Brady Johnson, the Iredell-Statesville Schools superintendent, said he doesn’t understand why what he called “draconian cuts” must continue given there was a $400 million budget surplus last year. Johnson said his district doesn’t have additional funds like larger systems to preserve his system’s 195 assistants should the Senate’s proposal prevail.

“Who’s going to monitor the children on the playground? Who’s going to walk them to the cafeteria?” said Johnson, the North Carolina Association of School Superintendents president.

Lawmakers return to Raleigh today to continue working on budget negotiations after a week long vacation.