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Governor’s budget veto creates uncertainty for students, teachers, and schools

While the new school year is fast approaching for most students, the governor’s “Medicaid-or-nothing” demands on the budget is creating uncertainty for students, teachers, and schools.

Regardless of your opinion of Medicaid expansion, it is simply not right to hold up the entire budget hostage and use teacher pay, school construction, and school safety as leverage.

This is exactly why the State Employees Association of North Carolina (SEANC) has been actively urging lawmakers to override the governor’s veto. Because they know the raises included in the budget for state employees — the largest in over a decade — should not be used as bargaining chips.

Furthermore, there is no reason Medicaid expansion needs to be tied to the budget. The budget already has language in it that allows for the governor to call the General Assembly back into a special session to deal with health care issues in North Carolina, but this is not enough for Gov. Cooper.

We welcome a debate on Medicaid expansion, but let’s not tie the most politically contentious issue with something as important as our state’s budget.

As the only active public school teacher in the N.C. General Assembly, I have a personal understanding of the challenges facing our teachers and schools. Sadly, teacher pay and education funding have been used as political footballs, even weapons, by politicians to advance their agenda and careers for decades.

This year it is being used as a bargaining chip in a political game that is stagnating the progress of our public education system. It has been almost a decade since the state has seen pay freezes for our teachers and state employees. This will be a reality again because our employees and education funding are being held hostage for the separate issue of Medicaid expansion.

Teacher pay is an emotional issue for many in our state, as the education system has had an impact in some way on everyone. Ensuring quality teachers in the classroom is of the upmost priority regardless of political party.

After five consecutive years of pay increases for our teachers, including over 9% in the past two years, this budget includes an additional 3.9% over the next two years with step increases and raises ranging from $500 to $2,600. The budget even includes two bonuses of $500 each for our most veteran teachers. 

When voters gave Republicans the majority in the General Assembly in 2011, North Carolina was ranked 47th in the nation in teacher pay — and due to decades of irresponsible spending and budgeting, school systems in the state were considering reduction in force. Hiring freezes and furloughs became a reality for our teachers. North Carolina is now 29th in the nation and second in the southeast in teacher pay.

Gov. Cooper and House Democrats need to allow this momentum to continue by letting the budget move through the impasse. I am from the western part of the state and have always been told “a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush.” Let the budget pass. 

Jeffrey Elmore

Representative Jeffrey Elmore serves the 94th House District in the N.C. General Assembly. He is the only active public school teacher in the legislature and is the Co-Chairman of House Education K-12 and Education Appropriations Committees. He teaches in Wilkes County Schools and is in his 18th year.