Gov. Roy Cooper criticized the House and Senate versions of the budget Monday at a press conference, saying neither proposal prioritizes education or economic development. The House passed its budget late last week.
“I’ve often said… that I want North Carolina to be a top-ten educated state by 2025,” Cooper said. “And to do that, we have to make investments now.”
Cooper emphasized the importance of early education. His budget proposal, which was largely ignored by both chambers of the legislature in the budget-making process, funds an additional 4,700 slots for N.C. Pre-K, the state-funded preschool for at-risk four-year olds.
“We need a budget that invests in early childhood, that eliminates the Pre-K waiting list and fully funds our efforts for early childhood and funds Smart Start,” he said.
He went on to highlight his teacher pay plan, which would raise teacher salaries an average 5 percent over each of the next two years and reward teachers at every step of the salary schedule.
“We need a budget that can get our teacher salaries to number one in the Southeast in three years and to at least the national average in five years,” Cooper said.
House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, praised the House’s proposal for its investment in teachers last week.
“We are continuing to invest in good quality teachers by rewarding them for their invaluable contribution to education in North Carolina,” Moore said in a release last week. “This is the fourth consecutive year of teacher pay raises in North Carolina, but almost all state employees are getting a significant pay raise in this year’s House budget as well.”
Moore and other Republican legislative leaders have prided themselves on economic responsibility.
“I’m very proud that the House continues to raise teacher pay and at the same time live within the budget, invest in core services and return savings to the taxpayers thanks to robust economic growth,” Moore stated.
The Senate’s budget would raise teacher pay by an average of 3.7 percent in 2017-18 and an average of 9.5 percent over the biennium. The House’s budget proposes an average pay increase of 3.3 percent this year and between 9 and 9.5 percent over the next two years. Democratic legislators and activists, however, expressed concern that the both salary schedules do not raise pay for beginning or veteran teachers.
Cooper said Monday that workforce development — preparing students for the jobs that are available — is key to attracting business to the state.
“(We need to) take the time to make sure that these community colleges can respond to these companies who come in and say, ‘Alright, I need a customized training program for these new kinds of jobs, you’ve got to be ready,’ and invest in people being able to get that kind of education and to be able to afford it,” Cooper said.
Cooper pointed to NC GROW, an initiative in his budget proposal that would cover tuition costs to community college for recent high school graduates.
On a broader scale, Cooper said the legislature is being too fiscally conservative at a time when the state can afford investing in education and jobs. He said he is concerned about both chambers’ tax packages, but particularly the Senate’s plan which he said would leave a hole in the budget.
“The House and Senate budgets shortchange our state at a time that we don’t have to,” he said. “We need a budget that has vision. We need a budget that is planning for years down the road, and when you have tax proposals that give tax breaks to millionaires and tax giveaways to corporations instead of investing in our people, then you make it very difficult to achieve those goals.”
Cooper called on the general public to contact legislators and demand funding for education and tax cuts for middle-class families.
“I’m here today to enlist the public to tell the General Assembly that they want a budget that invests in education and invests in people, and when you cut taxes, make sure they help the middle class,” Cooper said. “That’s the message that I want to tell people to tell this General Assembly.”
The House passed their budget last week. For an overview of education-related components of the House budget, go here and here. The Senate passed their proposal earlier in May, and its education details may be found here.
Members from both chambers will meet to hash out a budget compromise.