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House passes budget, boosts teacher and principal pay

The House passed its budget in the early hours this morning. The measure includes pay increases for teachers and a complete revamp of the principal pay schedule. 

There was little debate on the proposal, though a testy exchange early in the night focused on education. House Democratic Leader Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, and Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, fought over House funding of textbooks.

Jackson began by criticizing the Republican’s budget, saying “budget priorities in the recent years have repeatedly looked out for the wealthy first,” and “it doesn’t do enough to help our state reach its full potential.” 

He targeted the House education plan as well, saying it falls short for those who are in charge of students. 

“The House budget underfunded our education needs once again, underfunded our teachers, and still leaves too many educators far behind,” he said. 

The budget proposal spends more than $180.9 million in the first year and $456.5 million in the second year on increases to teacher and principal pay. Of that, about $94 million is specifically for principal pay — about $38 million in the first year and almost $56 million in the second year. About $27 million total for both years is designated for school counselors. 

Rough estimates from the fiscal research division of the General Assembly show an average increase in teacher salaries of 3.3 percent in 2017-18 and between 9 and 9.5 percent over the biennium. 

Jackson also targeted textbook funding by way of an anecdote about his son. He said that when his son originally started in school, the biggest concern was how heavy backpacks were. 

“Well, my youngest son doesn’t have that problem now because he doesn’t have textbooks to carry around,” he said. 

The House budget provides about $10.3 million in additional non-recurring funding for textbooks and digital resources in the first year of the biennium, bringing the net appropriation for that year up to $65.8 million. 

“We had a chance to fund textbooks and we didn’t take it,” Jackson said. 

Speciale reacted to Jackson’s comments by addressing what he described as Democrats’ typical reaction to Republican budgets. 

“My goodness, the sky is falling,” he said. “We hear this every time there’s a new budget.” 

He went on to say that things were worse when Democrats were in control and that if the state had more money, it could meet everyone’s wish lists.  

“We’re not going to tax the citizens of the state out of their income and out of their homes like what was going on for years and years,” he said. 

He also rebutted Jackson’s comments on textbooks, saying that years ago the State Department of Public Instruction approached the General Assembly and asked lawmakers not to put so much money into textbooks because the need for digital resources was greater. The General Assembly followed suit and got blowback because of it, Speciale said. 

“So we put it into digital, and as soon as we got home it was in the papers that we didn’t fund textbooks,” he said. He also pointed out how much money was in the budget for textbooks, saying that he could not believe Jackson would say the House is not funding textbooks.

Rep. William Richardson, D-Cumberland, said the budget missed a “golden opportunity.”

“We are in a position now where we can reinvest in the infrastructure of the state,” he said. 

He said the House budget failed to do that. 

“My father used to tell me don’t pat yourself on the back or put your head in the sand and rest on your laurels,” he said. 

In a press release after the passage of the budget on second reading, House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, championed what he called historic tax relief and investments. 

“The 2017 House budget provides more income tax relief for North Carolina families, seeks a top-quality return on investment for their hard-earned dollars and saves for the future while making strategic investments in North Carolina’s rapidly growing population,” he said in the press release. 

The second reading on the budget came a little before 10:30 p.m. The vote was 82-34. The budget plan passed on its third and final third reading after midnight 80-31.

The House and Senate will now meet in conference to hammer out their differences and devise a budget that will go to Governor Roy Cooper. 

For a look at some of the highlights of the education provisions of the budget, go here and here

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.