A dysfunctional legislature

Published June 27, 2024

By Public Ed Works

“Budget deal eludes GOP,” said a headline this week in the News & Observer.1

So let’s get this straight: Republicans have a supermajority in both houses of the General Assembly – they have enough votes to override the governor’s veto even if he doesn’t like their version of a state budget.

They have a $1 billion surplus – not at all a tight budget.

But they can’t agree on what to do with it?

That’s dysfunctional. It’s broken.

So they’ve decided to leave their so-called “short” session at the end of this week and maybe come back in a month or two to try again.

“North Carolina legislature likely heading home soon for a ‘little cooling off’ over budget,” said a headline on WRAL.2

The main sticking point between the House and Senate appears to be additional raises for teachers and state employees beyond the 3% raises they’re scheduled to get in the coming year, based on the two-year budget adopted last fall.

The House’s version of the budget would bump that raise to an average of 4.4% for K-12 teachers, while granting an additional 1% for other state workers and a one-time 2% bonus for state retirees.3

The Senate’s version would add nothing.

MEANWHILE, TEN THOUSAND TEACHERS – 11.5% of the public-school teachers in the state – left North Carolina’s classrooms last year. And a rapidly growing number are being “replaced” – we use the word with hesitation – by uncertified teachers.4

Average teacher pay in North Carolina ranked 38th among the states in 2022-23 – a decline in the rankings. It is projected to fall further, to 41st, this year. Starting teacher pay in the state ranked 42nd last year. (And that was an improvement!)5

Some legislators say teachers already are scheduled to receive a 3% raise in 2024-25, given the budget they adopted last year.

But North Carolina voters recognize how poorly the state’s teachers are paid, what a challenge it’s become to recruit and keep them, and what those teachers have lost to inflation at the gas pump and the grocery store.

In a poll for Public Ed Works in April, an overwhelming 78% of North Carolina voters said K-12 public school teachers deserve a bigger raise than the 3% they’re scheduled to get.6

When school bells ring in August, those teachers won’t have the luxury to take a month off.

They can’t go to the beach to “cool off.” Or to Vegas. Or on a bourbon tour.

Our state’s children will be in their classrooms.

BOTH THE HOUSE AND SENATE would put hundreds of millions of additional taxpayer dollars into vouchers to attend private schools, which they expanded last year to remove any income limits on who gets them.

Vouchers divert tax dollars that could otherwise go to public schools and instead give them to private schools, the vast majority (90%) of them religious schools.7

Gov. Roy Cooper – who proposed 8.5% raises for public school teachers in the budget year that starts July 1 – told WRAL last week that neither chamber’s budget meets North Carolina’s needs.

“Both of their proposals are horrible,” Cooper said. “I mean, they could take $625 million just in one year, and put it in taxpayer-funded private school vouchers.

“We could take that funding and provide an 8.5% pay raise for teachers, a $1,500 retention bonus for teachers, plus hire teacher assistants and counselors that they’d need in our schools and still have money left over.”8

Instead of leaving the sandbox, state legislators need to do the job North Carolina voters elected them to do, and our state’s children desperately need them to do.

Legislators need to spend less time and taxpayer funds looking out for private schools.

And a lot more time and funds looking out for the public schools more than 80% of North Carolina’s students still attend.9

1 https://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/article289499068.html.
2 https://www.wral.com/story/north-carolina-legislature-likely-heading-home-soon-for-a-little-cooling-off-over-budget/21491956/.
3 https://publicedworks.org/2024/06/house-budget-a-gesture-to-help/.
4 https://www.wral.com/story/nc-teacher-turnover-hits-highest-mark-in-decades-new-report-shows-changes-in-who-is-leading-classrooms/21361469/.
5 https://publicedworks.org/2024/05/nc-slips-in-teacher-pay-ranking/;https://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article288227865.html.
6 https://publicedworks.org/2024/04/nc-voters-pay-teachers-better/.
7 https://publicedworks.org/2024/06/school-choice-or-schools-choice/.
8 https://www.wral.com/story/senate-approves-budget-but-lawmakers-remain-at-odds-over-compromise-deal/21493645/.
9 https://www.wunc.org/education/2023-12-28/nc-students-school-trends-decline-traditional-public