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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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This morning’s edition of Setting the record straight over on the main Policy Watch website has some rare praise for the surprisingly progressive rhetoric emanating from state budget negotiations this week. But it also takes lawmakers to task for their failure to seize upon the most obvious solution to their inability to find a way to fund the essential services (i.e. teachers and health care) that they have prioritized. The best answer to the General Assembly’s budget dilemma, of course, is to halt next January’s scheduled tax cut that will primarily benefit the rich:

“According to the best and most recent estimates, the 2013 tax cuts – which overwhelmingly favor the state’s most wealthy taxpayers – are costing the state more than $500 million in foregone revenue in the fiscal year that began last week. Add to this the fact that the cuts have caused a downward revision of revenue projections by another $190 million and the gap may well balloon to more than $700 million.

Even if lawmakers left these cuts in place, however, and merely stopped the implementation of a yet another round of tax cuts scheduled to take effect next January, the state would still realize $300 million in additional revenue in calendar year 2015 – more than enough to make a significant dent in the education shortfall and solve innumerable problems in the current negotiations.”

Meanwhile, this morning’s lead editorial in the Charlotte Observer has another quick fix proposal — at least on teacher pay: Read More

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Senator Bob Rucho of Mecklenburg County

Senator Bob Rucho of Mecklenburg County

As Clayton Henkel and Lindsay Wagner report in the posts below, negotiations over teacher pay have taken what appears to be a positive turn this week at the General Assembly with the announcement that the state Senate is willing to back down on its demand that teachers choose between a pay raise and their right to a measure of due process when it comes losing their jobs.

It’s welcome news, but news that is tempered by the fact that Senators apparently kept their fingers crossed behind their backs while they made the offer. Senate Education Committee chairman Jerry Tillman also told reporters Lynn Bonner and Jim Morrill that the matter of teacher due process (i.e. “tenure”) would be back:

“’We’ll get rid of tenure in 2018,’ he said. ‘That issue will be settled.’”

Perhaps even more frustrating than Tillman’s statement in the aftermath of yesterday’s negotiations, however, were the comments of his Senate colleague and fellow conservative fire-breather, Bob Rucho.

When asked about the Senate’s consistent refusal to budge on its plan to pay for teacher raises by firing thousands of teacher assistants (a plan that even Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger hinted might finally be on the way out) Rucho was his usual  aggressive self. As Morrill and Bonner reported: Read More

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House Speaker Thom Tillis partnered with Gov. Pat McCrory today to announce their efforts to work together toward a teacher pay plan they characterized as responsible and affordable—but key details of the House’s new mini-budget proposal, unveiled today, remain unclear.

“We’ve been preparing plans from not inside the beltline but outside the beltline – by listening to the experts who are closest to the action, who are every day inside the classroom,” said McCrory, who was flanked by Speaker Tillis, State Board of Education Chair Bill Cobey, State Superintendent June Atkinson as well as lawmakers, school superintendents, teachers and other education advocates from around the state.

McCrory called on local superintendents and teachers to support his proposed teacher pay plan, which would work toward implementing career pathways that reward teachers for performance as well as experience and avoid cutting teacher assistants, unlike the Senate proposal which would slash TAs in the second and third grades.

Tillis followed McCrory by stepping up to the podium to announce his revised “mini-budget” that would be unveiled later in the afternoon in the House appropriations committee.

Calling it a consensus bill that people on Main Street would support, Tillis said his revised legislation would give teachers a raise but take the lottery funds off the table to do that. He would also preserve funds for teacher assistants. Read More

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State lawmakers haven’t decided if the N.C. Education Lottery will be able to double the number of ads it runs and then use proceeds from increased sales to pay for teacher raises.

The House and Senate sides of the Republican-led legislature have stark differences in this year’s budget, and one of the biggest areas of difference is how to pay teachers and with what money.Lottery

House lawmakers want to double the advertising budget for the state-run lottery, in hopes it would turn out $106 million extra dollars to use for teacher raises. The budget proposal also includes several restrictions on advertising– including disclosing the odds of winning a top prize and a ban on advertising during collegiate athletic events.

(In case you missed, N.C. Policy Watch published an analysis of 2013 lottery data yesterday that found that all 10 of the counties with highest per capita sales all had high rates of poverty. Click here to read the article.)

The Senate proposed a much different teacher salary plan that required teachers to give up tenure in exchange for raises paid for with cuts to other education programs and the state Medicaid program.

Senate members heard from the N.C. Education Lottery director Alice Garland, who said the proposed restrictions put in place by state Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, a longtime critic of the lottery, was an attempt to get rid of the lottery.

“The author of this language wants to see the lottery fail and wants to put the lottery out of business,” Garland said. “That is why those restrictions were put in the House budget.”

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