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House passes budget plan

Update: The House budget proposal passed its final vote today, May 3, 2019. The vote was 61 to 51. An amendment put a provision that provided $1 million for a virtual Pre-k pilot back into the budget today after it was removed yesterday via amendment. 

In a press release after the vote, House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said the following: 

“This is another visionary spending plan for our state and especially our school systems,” he said. “The House budget reflects the kitchen table priorities of North Carolina families to spend carefully, save wisely, and balance our essential needs with a focus on the future.”

Scroll down to read about the first vote of the budget yesterday and hear from some of its critics. 

The House voted 61-54 today in favor of its two-year budget plan in the first of two votes that will be taken on the document. The second and final vote will happen tomorrow.

The budget plan includes an average 4.6% pay increase for teachers in the first year of the biennium, but the manner in which the plan’s details rolled out sparked criticism.

In a press conference the day prior to the May 1 Day of Action — where teachers from districts around the state rallied at the General Assembly with a list of education demands — House leaders announced the broad sketches of their teacher salary plan. But details were not forthcoming until the next day after the rally ended during a House appropriations committee.

When details emerged, the public discovered that the new teacher pay schedule would start on January 2020 (instead of at the start of the school year as usual), and that only teachers with 16 or more years of experience would get new raises on that scale. Until then, the only teachers who would get pay increases are teachers who were slated to get step increases under the current salary schedule anyway.

Also important to note, the average pay increase of 4.6% in the first year of the biennium is an annualized number, meaning that it is based on what the number would be if the new House salary schedule was in place for the entire year. But since it’s not, the actual average pay increase is lower than 4.6% in the first year of the biennium.

Courtesy of the office of House Speaker Tim Moore

Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, R-Wilkes, said the plan was weighted towards veteran teachers because lawmakers are hearing that they are more likely to leave the profession by retiring early.

“We’re trying to stabilize this scale so that in the future we can do across the board cost of living increases,” Elmore said in an interview during the House appropriations committee yesterday. “We feel like this proposal stabilizes that scale.”

But Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, and the North Carolina Association of Educators — which spearheaded the march yesterday — called foul.

In Cooper’s budget plan, he proposed spending $600 million over two years to increase teacher pay. The funds would amount to an average increase of 9.1% over the biennium for teachers. Under his plan, no teacher would receive less than a 3% increase in either year of the biennium.

“The Republican budget prioritizes yet another corporate tax cut over strong teacher pay raises,” Cooper said of the House plan in a press release. “What’s worse is Republican leaders touted these raises when the teachers were in town while deliberately hiding the fact that their raises were only for half a year. Only after the teachers left did they find out the Republicans pulled another fast one on them. Our public schools deserve better.”

The NCAE and teachers rallying yesterday were asking for a host of demands, including a 5% pay increase for all school employees and the restoration of master’s pay.

“The budget proposed by House leadership is completely inadequate to meet the needs of North Carolina students and educators,” said NCAE President Mark Jewell in a press release. “NCAE and educators from across the state marched in Raleigh yesterday to push for equitable compensation for all educators and expansion of Medicaid, which is a long-overdue and critical component in improving the lives of our poorest students.

Not only does this budget fail to raise the minimum wage of our lowest-paid educators, but the proposed pay scales are nothing more than a shell game designed for political expediency at the expense of solving actual educational needs, necessitated by the continued tax cuts on businesses and wealthy individuals. In short, this budget fails our educators, our students, and our communities, and NCAE cannot support it.”

The budget does include the restoration of master’s pay. Teachers with a master’s degree would get a 10% increase on top of their ordinary salary. 

While there were a number of attempted amendments during the House debate, there were few big changes made to the education portions of the budget. The attacks on the provision that would create a virtual pre-K pilot continued on the House floor, with multiple amendments that tried to reallocate the $1 million funding for the program. Similar attempts were made in previous committees. Finally, one amendment by Rep. Carla Cunningham, D-Mecklenburg, passed by only one vote today. It would take the money and use it instead for Students in Crisis grants. But with another vote still to go on the budget, it’s possible that the virtual pre-K pilot will find a way back into the budget. 

Beyond the attempted amendments, the only person to speak out against the budget proposal was Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, the House minority leader. He criticized a number of education items, including per-pupil spending and teacher pay. 

“This budget only offers new raises to veteran teachers who were previously left out, and even with those raises, it only covers half a year,” he said, before going on to call the half-year pay raise a gimmick. “There are no shortcuts in this. It takes money and it takes commitment.”

Principals would get an average 10% pay increase in the first year of the biennium under the House plan, and assistant principals would get an average 6.3% increase. The principal pay schedule would also be aligned with the teacher pay schedule so that if teacher pay changes, the principal salary schedule will also change to reflect that. 

Previously, principals were paid based on the size of their school and school growth alone. They still will be under the new budget, but their base salary will ultimately also reflect their years of experience. Principals will receive whatever a teacher of similar experience would get plus 25%. Then, size of the school and growth scores would round out the rest of the salary. 

Courtesy of the office of House Speaker Tim Moore

The new principal pay schedule also does not go into effect until January 2020 and, like the teacher pay increases, the average principal and assistant principal pay increases are annualized. That means the actual average percent increase is lower than the 10% and 6.3% numbers given. The new schedule also adds an extra school size category. Previously, the top of the schedule were principals that had more than 1,300 students. This schedule adds a category for principals who oversee schools with more than 1,600 students.

The budget also continues the hold harmless provision that prevents principals who received more under previous schedules from receiving less under the new schedule.

After the budget passes the House, it will go to the Senate. Jackson said the budget package won’t be more appealing after that.

“The Senate, we all know, will make the budget much worse,” he said. 

Read more details on the budget here

Alex Granados

Alex Granados was the senior reporter for EducationNC from December 2014-March 2023.