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Budget highlights give glimpse of Senate spending priorities

Senators gave a glimpse of their spending priorities during a press conference on their budget proposal this afternoon. While Republican lawmakers gave some details on what will be in their budget plan, the actual document was not yet available. 

Education was a key topic discussed during the press conference, which was led by Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, R-Rockingham.

“Anyone who has seen our Senate budgets over the past six years will not be surprised that this budget continues our philosophy of improving outcomes in public education,” Berger said. 

Berger and Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown, R-Onslow, said the budget would provide more than $600 million additional dollars for public education, and fund salary increases for teachers that will lead to an average 3.7 percent raise this year and 9.5 percent raise over the biennium. 

Brown said the budget proposal also includes $28.5 million to “substantially” increase principal and assistant principal pay. The money would be paid for with lottery funds, mirroring a provision in Senate Bill 234, which has not passed either chamber of the legislature. However, unlike that bill, the money would not be given to districts to use as they see fit, but would instead be distributed via a salary schedule. 

Ten million additional recurring dollars would be given to schools for textbooks and digital resources, and $75 million would be available to be distributed via grants for economically needy rural counties with school building needs. 

Addressing the issue of “enhancement teachers,” — those who teach art, music, and physical education — who were potentially at risk of being reduced this year before the passage of House Bill 13, Brown said the Senate budget makes its intentions clear. 

“It codifies the legislature’s intent to use data it is currently gathering from local school systems … to fund a new salary allotment for kindergarten through fifth grade program enhancement, which is the music, art, PE teachers, beginning in 18-19 school year.” 

Berger said that the budget proposal will also include thousands of additional slots for the states pre-k program, and while he didn’t give details, he did give some indication that the budget includes opportunity scholarships (vouchers), as well.

“We continue to support the programs that are in place,” he said when asked about opportunity scholarships. 

A few hours after the press conference, Governor Roy Cooper’s office sent out a press release in response to the budget details announced by Senate lawmakers. 

“Governor Cooper has offered a clear blueprint to invest in our teachers and schools, create good jobs, and put more money in the pockets of middle class families. It’s good that some of the Governor’s proposals on teacher pay and other issues are reflected in the Senate budget, but we will reserve judgment until we see the details,” said Governor Cooper’s spokesman Ford Porter in the press release. “Unfortunately, Senate Republicans have prioritized yet another massive tax giveaway for corporations and the wealthiest that would give millionaires a tax cut 60 times larger than middle class families. Their plan blows a $600 million hole in our budget, which wrecks our ability to invest in education, disaster recovery and other priorities. Those are not the right priorities for our state.”

The release goes on to lay out some of the items in the Governor’s proposed budget, before stating: “Governor Cooper’s proposed budget invests in education, jobs and middle class families without raising taxes, instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on tax giveaways for large corporations and the wealthy.”

The actual budget is expected sometime late tonight. Committee consideration of the document will begin tomorrow, and lawmakers plan to get the budget through the Senate by week’s end. 

After that, the House will come up with its own spending plan, and the two chambers will hash out their differences before sending a compromise version of the budget to Governor Roy Cooper. 

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.