Critics contend state budget proposal misses the mark on education

NC Association of Educator’s President Tamika Walker Kelly promised Monday to go over the state compromise budget with a “fine-tooth” comb.

Kelly quickly identified one point of concern — $2 billion in new tax cuts — shortly after the $25.9 billion budget proposal for the current fiscal year was released.

“That’s a choice to prioritize tax cuts over complying with the court-mandated constitutional requirement to fund public education,” Kelly said in a statement.

Tamika Walker Kelly

The second year of the biennium calls for $27 billion in spending. K-12 schools is set to receive $10.6 billion in funding this fiscal year and $10.9 billion the next.

Kelly said the NCAE will quickly review the budget to “understand the details” but that review will likely come too late to sway House and Senate votes or to stop Gov. Roy Cooper from signing it into law before the end of the week.

“I will sign this budget because, on balance, the good outweighs the bad,” Cooper said in a statement Tuesday. “It moves North Carolina forward in important ways, many that are critical to our state’s progress as we are emerging from this pandemic.”

Gov. Roy Cooper

Cooper acknowledged that the budget “missed opportunities and contains some misguided policy.”

But he said it’s also a “budget we desperately need at this unique time in the history of our state.”

Meanwhile, the Budget and Tax Center, sent an action alert urging its supporters to call lawmakers and demand they reject the compromise budget. The Center is a project of the NC Justice Center. Policy Watch is also a project of the Justice Center.

“The conference report has deep income tax cuts that will benefit the wealthy and profitable corporations, costing the state more than $8 billion annually in revenue when fully in effect,” the statement said. “It won’t provide people with affordable health care or fund the constitutional obligation the state has to provide a sound, basic education to every child.”

The plan phases out the corporate income tax over six years and lowers the personal income rate.

The constitutional requirement to which Kelly and the Budget & Tax Center referred is the state’s long-running Leandro school funding lawsuit in which the state Supreme Court twice found that North Carolina has failed to meet its constitutional obligation to provide children of the state with an opportunity to receive a sound basic education.

The $2 billion in new tax cuts Kelly referenced is just short of the $1.7 billion consultants hired by Superior Court Judge David Lee, the judge overseeing the case, said is needed to pay for the next two years of the Leandro Comprehensive Remedial Plan. The plan to improve the state’s K-12 schools has been endorsed by the plaintiffs and defendants in the Leandro case as well as the State Board of Education.

Last week, Lee ordered the state to take $1.7 billion from its reserves to pay for the plan, which calls for a competent, well-trained teacher in every classroom; a competent, well-trained principal in every school, and additional resources to ensure all children have an equal opportunity to obtain a sound, basic education, among other measures such as providing extra money to help school districts in low-wealth counties improve academic outcomes for students.

Kelly said it’s clear the state has the money to pay for “meaningful raises, student services, adequately resourced classrooms and more.”

The Leandro case isn’t mentioned but some budget line items do address recommendations in the remedial plan.

For example, the budget proposal calls for 5% raises over the next two years for teachers and other state employees. The remedial plan called for raises 5% raises this year.

Additionally, districts in 95 low-wealth counties would share $100 million in recurring funds to supplement teacher pay. A supplement is the extra pay teachers receive on top of state salaries. It is usually paid out of local coffers.

Low-wealth, rural counties find it difficult to recruit and retain the best and brightest teachers because they often can’t match higher supplements paid by wealthier, urban districts.

The five counties not eligible for low-wealth supplemental funding are Buncombe, Durham, Guilford, Mecklenburg and Wake. All are urban, Democratic counties.

“It’s not the way I would have written it, and I think all of the counties need to be part of that process,” Cooper said during an afternoon press conference. “I’ll keep fighting for them.”

He noted, however, that Leandro v. State of North Carolina was brought by five school districts in low-wealth counties that argued their districts did not have enough money to provide children a quality education.

“Many of these poorer counties don’t have the tax base to give these teachers the kind of supplement they need to keep them in the district,” Cooper said. “Even though this fund is not as fair as it could be, I think it will go toward helping more teachers get pay raises across the state, particularly in our poorer districts.”

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