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State Rep. Nelson Dollar said he anticipates the state will be able to patch the $445 million shortfall for next year and use money from budget cuts for modest teacher and state employee salary raises.

State Rep. Nelson Dollar

State Rep. Nelson Dollar

“The question is will we be able to pay teachers and state employees or have increase, modest though they might be, and… keep on track with raising beginning teacher pay,” Dollar said. “The answer is yes.”

Dollar, a Wake County Republican and chief House budget writer, made his comments Monday at a reporters’ roundtable held in downtown Raleigh.

The N.C. General Assembly short session begins on Wednesday, when lawmakers arrive to begin making revisions to the upcoming budget year and deal with proposals for coal-ash cleanup, teacher and state employee raises and more.

Dollar, who said there will be cuts, or “budget reductions,”  coming, but didn’t say from where with lawmakers still waiting to see a proposed budget from Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration.

‘There will be budget reductions, yes. There will be budget reductions in the various agencies,” Dollar said. “That will flow right back into raises.”

He said he did not anticipate an across-the-board percentage cut, but expected cuts to be “much more thoughtful than that.”

Dollar also said:

  • The Medicaid shortfall may be lower than the estimated $130 million shortfall currently projected, though Dollar did say that the continuing problems with the NC TRACKS Medicaid billing system makes it difficult to project accurately.
  • No major changes to Medicaid system this year. Any reforms to the $13 billion system will come with significant legislative input, Dollar said. “We need to keep momentum moving forward on Medicaid reform,” Dollar said. “It’s going to take a while to get the system that we want.”
  • Less babysitting of the UNC system? Dollar, in mentioning that the UNC Board of Governors now consists completely of appointments by Republican legislative leaders, said he expects the General Assembly will dictate less about how the UNC should make cuts. “There’s a lot of interest in letting them do their work,” he said. He added, “A lot of what they’re doing is evaluating the whole system.”
  • No independent redistricting process  any time soon. Dollar said he doesn’t see much desire at all in the Republican-led legislature to hand over redistricting responsibilities to a non-partisan group. “I get asked that sometimes by my colleagues in the other party and I always remind them that we introduced bills and they refused to take them up or consider them,” he said. “So, it’s sort of, it is what it is. I don’t see that moving anywhere anytime soon.”
  • Interested in the Speaker job? “I would certainly be willing to serve in any capacity that the caucus would choose,” Dollar said. “But my focus right now is solely on the budget.”
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On the heels of Gov. McCrory’s newest teacher compensation proposal, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest proposed yesterday his own smaller-scale solution to improving the abysmal teacher pay situation in North Carolina.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest proposes license plates to boost teacher pay

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest proposes license plate revenue as one way to boost teacher pay

License plates.

Okay, to be fair, that’s not his entire plan – but it is the face of it.

Forest introduced draft legislation to members of the Ed Oversight committee that would create a Teacher Endowment Fund earmarked for compensating public school teachers who improve student outcomes in their classrooms.

One way Forest proposes to fund the endowment is with the sale of license plates that say “I Support Teachers.” In his bill, the Lieutenant Governor modified existing law that establishes a license plate option with the words “I Support Public Schools,” which was never created due to a lack of interest. Forest crossed out “Public Schools” and replaced it with “Teachers.”

WRAL reported that the state’s most popular specialized license plates, which are the ones that contribute to the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, only generate annual revenue amounts of $500,000.

But Forest told reporters yesterday that he hopes the endowment will generate billions of dollars in revenue over the long term.

Perhaps that’s possible with some of the other options in his bill that would funnel money into the endowment. Corporations and individuals will be allowed to make tax-deductible donations to the fund, and Forest told committee members that he personally planned to embark on fundraising by approaching corporations and asking them to donate.

No matter how much is raised, Sen. Josh Stein worried that the endowment funds could ultimately just get thrown in with the big General Appropriations pot, much like what happened to the lottery funding that was originally intended to fund certain areas of education.

The bill includes the option for the General Assembly to appropriate money directly to the endowment, but Forest told reporters yesterday there would be no initial “ask” for the fund during this upcoming short session.

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Pat McCrory 4Dan ForestWith yesterday’s mostly predictable election out of the way, state policy debates will actually take center stage in North Carolina for a few weeks. Not surprisingly though, the process will begin today with a rather strange pair of competing press conferences in which the ideological battles that played out in the Republican Party primary between the far right and the ultra-far-right will be renewed. As WRAL.com reported last night:

“Gov. Pat McCrory said Tuesday that he plans to roll out a ‘major education announcement’ in Greensboro on Wednesday that will address long-term issues and focus on rewarding teachers for good work….

The governor plans to join educators, state and local officials and business leaders at North Carolina A&T State University for the 10 a.m. announcement.

Four hours later, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest will join Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, chief education budget writer in the Senate, in Raleigh to ‘unveil a new fund to supplement teacher pay in North Carolina public schools.’

Talk about the right hand not keeping up with the left (or, in this case, the right hand not keeping up with the extreme right). Of course, it’s been common knowledge in Raleigh for a long time that Forest is the darling of the Tea Party/religious right crowd and that he has been building a network of supporters to help him run for Governor in 2020 (or maybe even 2016 if McCrory continues to falter). Could it be that the contest between these two will begin today with, ironically enough, competing proposals over teacher pay — a subject over which the GOP has been pummeled for its budget-slashing policies? Stay tuned — it could be that an interesting next chapter in state policy wars is about to begin.

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It’s not a new argument from North Carolina conservatives; we’ve been hearing from the so-called “free market think tanks” for years. Still it was a bit of an eye opener to read the following letter from State Senator Warren Daniel to a North Carolinian who expressed concerns about the state’s abysmal teacher salaries (as first posted at the site Pay Our Teachers First):

“Ms. Greene,

Do teachers teach because they love teaching, & they love children, or
because they are paid at some national average? Are you considering that
in addition to the State salary, teachers also make approximately 14
thousand dollars in taxpayer paid benefits, and most counties have salary
supplements? In addition, compared to similarly situated state
employees, a teacher’s work year is approximately two months shorter.
While a department of corrections employee or a highway patrolman may
have to work on Christmas and Thanksgiving, teachers receive vacations
for every major holiday and are with their families. Read More

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North Carolina’s General Assembly reconvenes in less than two weeks and it’s still unclear whether veteran teachers or state employees will see a pay raise this year.

Governor Pat McCrory has said raising the base salary for starting K-12 teachers is his goal, but available revenue will determine if others see a jump in pay.

State Schools Superintendent June Atkinson, who joins us this weekend on News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon, says the state cannot afford to overlook any of its teachers:

“One of the first priorities must be to give all of our teachers a raise, ” said Atkinson in a radio interview with NC Policy Watch.

Atkinson also shares her thoughts on the proposal by some lawmakers to ditch the Common Core and replace it with new state standards, which have yet to be developed.

For an excerpt of Dr. Atkinson’s weekend radio interview, click below:
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