The House and Senate kicked off the beginning of the 2017-18 session of the General Assembly with the swearing in of all members of the House and Senate, and the re-election of Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, as House Speaker, and Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, as Senate President Pro Tempore.
In speaking for Moore, Rep. Mitchell Setzer, R-Catawba, who first put Moore’s name up for nomination, cited Moore’s accomplishments in education as one reason he should remain Speaker.
In particular, he cited Moore’s work in helping get legislation passed that raised starting teacher base pay to $35,000, investing “hundreds of million in K-12 education,” and ensuring that high school graduates are career-and-college ready.
“As a former member of the UNC Board of Governors, Tim is committed to making North Carolina public schools the very best they can be for our students,” he said.
Moore himself noted the raise in beginning teachers’ base pay, while saying that it was essential that the state cultivate a work force that is “career ready” with an education that will prepare them for an “increasingly innovative world.”
“Our state needs a dynamic education system that serves students with the tools they need,” he said.
He also said that House members must work together with students, school systems, community colleges, universities, and charter schools to ensure that students “succeed at every level.”
In addition to selecting Moore as Speaker, the House picked Rep. Sarah Stevens, R-Surry, to be Speaker Pro Tempore, the number two position in the House previously held by Paul “Skip” Stam. He declined to run again for re-election in 2016.
Stevens noted that she has a daughter that is a teacher, and she said when teachers are having issues with education in North Carolina, she hears about it.
In addition to these positions, Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, was named Chairman of the House Rules Committee. Other party-affiliated leadership positions were also announced, including Rep. John Bell, R-Wayne, as House Majority Leader and Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, as Minority Leader.
As Berger addressed the Senate, he touted the legislature’s teacher salary increase that he said brings average teacher salary to $50,000. Berger said the Senate has already committed to raising that average salary number to $55,000 over the next two years.
Berger thanked Senate members and their families for their sacrifices to serve the state and explained the changes the Republican-led legislature has made over the last six years.
“We come back because we’ve seen the fruits of our efforts,” Berger said. “We know that what’s done here can make a positive and meaningful difference in the lives of our fellow North Carolinians.”
Berger said North Carolina faced many issues that the legislature has had an important role in confronting and improving since Republicans took control of the General Assembly in 2010 — including the state of education.
“Public schools were once struggling with declining state support,” Berger said. “Thousands of state-funded teachers’ positions were eliminated, teachers were furloughed, and their pays frozen.”
“Now, state funding for public schools has reached record levels, new teachers have been hired, and average teacher pay has climbed above $50,000 for the first time in state history.”
The final numbers that would show that average being achieved are not in yet — they are expected later this month — but Kris Nordstrom has been sounding an alarm that lawmakers’ goals will fall short. Nordstrom is a policy analyst with the North Carolina Justice Center’s Education and Law Project and former analyst for the General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division.
Berger later added that commitment to improving and reforming education will not stop.
“We will remain focused on providing a bright future for our children and helping build a capable work force that will attract business to the state,” Berger said.
Sen. Louis Pate, R-Lenoir, was elected as the Senate’s Deputy President Pro Tempore.
Lt. Governor Dan Forest, a Republican who presides over the Senate as its president, later made comments to welcome the Senate to the new legislative session. He mentioned progress in teacher compensation, attraction, and retainment.
Forest also spoke about bringing Internet access to classrooms — an initiative Forest has led and championed for years.
“We will be the first in the nation to have every single classroom connected to high-speed broadband… so that every student in North Carolina has access to an excellent education.”
Senator Angela Bryant, D-Nash, was named the new Chairwoman of the Legislative Black Caucus — which includes members of both the House and the Senate.