Editorial: Senate's low expectations budget fails state's needs
Posted May 12
A CBC Editorial: Friday, May 12, 2017; Editorial # 8160
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company
"We think people have better ideas how to spend their money than bureaucrats and politicians." – North Carolina Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, upon offering details of his version of the next state budget.
If there’s one astute observation on the 860-page budget – concocted largely in secret, rushed through committees and a Senate vote this week – Berger nailed it. But, if he’s got such great faith in the “people,” why does he refuse to let them in on the budget process? Why doesn’t he trust the “people” to get involved in the debate and have an opportunity for input? Why the secret budget?
There’s a simple reason. The “public” knows what the priorities should be on Jones Street. Legislators should focus on building a great public education system. Not just ok, but great, by establishing high expectations and providing the support to get the job done.
We are not suggesting “throwing money” at our schools. North Carolina continues to be a basement dweller in public school investment. Just this week the National Education Association reported North Carolina ranks 43rd in per-student spending. Why would our Senate accept being in the fourth quartile of per pupil spending? Who wants to be in the fourth quartile of anything? This is a budget with low expectations.
The buying power of North Carolina’s teachers has been mostly stagnant. A decade ago, average state-funded teacher pay was $41,798. Given the changes in consumer prices (inflation), that would be $48,877 today – $3,686 more than the $45,191 state-funded average for teachers this year. (Remember, the $49,856 “average” reported for national surveys ranking teacher pay includes local supplements – which are non-existent in some counties.)
North Carolina teachers have more ground to make up than the Senate proposes. Why the limited increases? Once again, the Senate starts with a tax decrease and works up from there. What schools need doesn’t matter. Reducing taxes fixes everything.
Gov. Roy Cooper’s modest budget plan should have been the Senate’s bottom line for teacher pay. Instead, at EVERY LEVEL, the Senate under cuts Cooper’s plans to improve compensation for teachers.
The Senate offers NO increase in the starting salaries for teachers. And, adding insult to injury, offers no boost for the most experienced teachers. There is a term for withholding raises from long term employees – “harvesting the workforce.” Organizations use it to force out experienced employees to replace them with lower salaried employees. Who wants to work for an organization like that?
Speaker Tim Moore and the House of Representatives must do better than the Senate AND the governor to address this continued neglect and disregard.
On top of continued increases in costs of health coverage, the Senate proposes a phase-out of continued health coverage for retired teachers and other state workers. Add to that, consideration of ending the defined pension benefit.
The Senate budget also fails to fund a deal – just passed into law – to avoid the massive layoff of lower-grade language, arts, music and physical education teachers. If the House fails to address this, it means local schools, again, will face uncertainty, next May, as they are preparing for a new school year. Certainly not a business-like way to run things.
Much needed pay raises for principals, worst-paid in the nation, is irresponsibly funded from state Lottery dollars instead of basic state government revenues.
There’s more. But that’s enough for today.
The Senate has proposed a budget that shows blatant disregard for our public schools, a budget of low expectations!