RALEIGH — State Sen. Gene McLaurin said the need to boost North Carolina teachers’ pay outweighed drawbacks in the Senate’s $21.2-billion budget.
McLaurin, D-Richmond, voted to pass the spending plan despite concerns over several budget provisions. The state Senate gave its final approval to the budget early Saturday after an up-or-down vote on Friday.
“Despite serious reservations about some aspects of the Senate budget, today I stood with teachers in my district and voted yes,” McLaurin said in a Friday statement. ” I’ll be the first to admit that this is far from a perfect budget, but we face a teacher pay crisis in North Carolina that has ranked us at 47th in the nation. This is a disgrace, especially for a state that was once regarded as one of the best in education nationwide.”
McLaurin said he’s met teachers in Richmond and surrounding counties who are working second and third jobs to supplement their incomes. Some local teachers can’t afford car repairs or have surgery, McLaurin said, “because our state has misplaced our priorities.”
“Make no mistake, the teacher crisis we face was caused by the misguided priorities of some here in Raleigh,” he said. “But today I had a chance to deliver on a promise I made to teachers – to raise teacher pay significantly – with an end goal of bringing teacher pay to the national average.”
McLaurin said the Senate budget raises teacher pay by an average of $5,800. Starting salaries for North Carolina teachers would increase from $30,000 to $33,000 per year.
“I will not kick the can down the road — we must address teacher pay now,” McLaurin said. “In addition to teacher pay, our state employees are due for a raise as well, and this budget accomplishes that by bringing up the average state employee pay by $1,000 with benefits. The budget also prioritizes early childhood education, our community colleges and university funding.”
The $21.2 billion plan for the year starting July 1 would give pay raises averaging more than 11 percent, but with a catch: Teachers would have to first relinquish claims to tenure or “career status” and other experience-based pay. Otherwise, they would remain on the current pay schedule.
A teacher with 20 years’ experience, for example, would receive base pay of $50,000 under the new schedule versus $43,633 under the current plan.
Senate leader Phil Berger said North Carolina’s average pay would near the middle of the pack if the schedule was carried out fully. Democratic and Republican majorities have given just one raise to teachers since 2008 in the Great Recession’s aftermath.
“Make no mistake about it — you vote against this budget, you’re voting against a substantial raise for teachers,” Berger said Friday evening during a three-hour debate before the first of two required votes. He added, “You can dodge the issue, you can talk about other things. But the centerpiece of the budget is that raise.”
The second vote, a 32-10 tally for the proposal, came after midnight, in keeping with requirements to have votes on separate days. In both votes, only one Democrat — Sen. Gene McLaurin of Richmond County — joined all Republicans present in backing the plan. Saturday’s debate lasted barely five minutes before senators left Raleigh until the middle of next week.
During Friday’s debate, other Democrats blasted the legislation for the way Republicans located $468 million to rework the pay schedule. Savings for nearly half the amount would come through eliminating money for local districts to hire 7,400 teaching assistants in all second- and third-grade classrooms. Funding for other education-related positions also would be eliminated.
“No teacher should have to choose between getting a pay increase and losing their teacher assistant,” said Sen. Malcolm Graham, D-Mecklenburg. Democrats also recalled how a 2013 tax overhaul that cut income-tax rates means hundreds of millions of dollars won’t go into government coffers.
“This budget is trying to cloak your political vulnerability at the expense of our school kids,” Senate Minority Whip Josh Stein, D-Wake, said in a nod to the November General Assembly elections. Republicans gave no teacher raise last year.
The Republican House will next write its own adjustments to the second year of the two-year budget approved last summer. A House-Senate compromise before the new fiscal year begins would go to McCrory, who already expressed unhappiness with the Senate plan.
The Senate budget also tells McCrory’s health department to stop working on his Medicaid reform proposal announced two months ago.
Republicans used a parliamentary procedure to block a vote on a Democratic amendment that would have kept the State Bureau of Investigation under the control of Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper. Under the bill, the SBI and State Crime Lab would sit under McCrory’s Department of Public Safety.
The Senate unanimously removed a provision that would have directed the University of North Carolina Board of Governors to draw up a plan to potentially close the historically black Elizabeth City State University, which has struggled recently with finances and leadership.