Legislators Push Forward Mini-Budgets On Educator Raises
Katherine Joyce | NCASA Executive Director
Lawmakers working toward a self-imposed adjournment deadline of today rolled out and approved several mini-budgets this week, including bills addressing pay raises for various groups of educators.
This week’s action on education mini-budgets coincided with continuing delays by the Senate GOP leadership to attempt overriding Governor Roy Cooper’s veto of House Bill 966, the full state budget package for the 2019-21 biennium. The House has overridden that veto, and Senate Republicans need either one Democrat to vote with them to override or two Senate Democrats to be absent when the override vote occurs to enact the budget over the Governor’s objections. Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said in a press conference Monday the override attempt would not occur unless he thought it would succeed. But he left the bill on the Senate floor calendar all week, keeping the option open to attempt the override, while continuing efforts to garner the needed Democratic votes to enact H966.
Meanwhile, work occurred in both chambers to approve additional mini-budgets addressing various parts of the H966 budget package. Much of that action centered on raises for educators in public schools, community colleges and universities.
On Wednesday evening, GOP lawmakers threw a new twist into the ongoing budget battle by unveiling a revamped Senate Bill 354 that would provide raises for teachers and other K-12 educators, but with a catch. The bill, approved by both the full House and Senate earlier today, would give teachers the same 3.9 percent raise over the next two years as outlined under the vetoed H966 budget. In addition, the bill calls for higher salary increases for teachers, assistant principals, non-certified personnel and central office employees that would kick in only if the veto on H966 is overridden to become law.
Under the contingencies in S354, the combined total raises for the current year and next for K-12 educators would increase as follows, only if H966 becomes law:
- Teachers and Instructional Support – From 3.9% to 4.4.% total.
- Assistant Principals – Remains tied to years of service on the teacher “A” salary schedule.
- Non-Certified – From 1% each year to 2% each year (for 4% total) plus a 0.5% bonus to be paid by Oct. 31, 2020.
- Central Office – From 1% each year to $2% each year (for 4% total).
In a joint statement from Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and Speaker of the House Tim Moore, (R-Cleveland), Republicans cast the S354 as an all-or-nothing choice months into this budgetary standoff. "There's still time for Senate Democrats to come back to us with what more they need to override the veto," Berger said in the statement. "This bill can change in five minutes. Otherwise, this is it. If the Governor vetoes this bill, teachers and support staff are the only ones in the state who will get nothing."
Raleigh media outlets reported the Cooper administration was swift in calling S354’s plan for contingency raises a bad idea. The Insider State Government News Service quoted Cooper spokesman Ford Porter as saying: "Is this a joke? Republican leaders want sweeping corporate tax cuts and their entire bad budget in exchange for paltry teacher raises that are less than those for other state employees."
The bill, heavily debated on the both the House and Senate floors today, passed under mostly partisan votes and now goes to the Governor, who must decide whether to sign, veto or allow it to become law without his signature. The bill also would provide a contingency for higher raises averaging 4 percent over two years for UNC system and community college employees. That amount exceeds pay increases laid out for those two groups in House Bill 231, which is the default raise bill that cleared the House Wednesday afternoon and was sent to the Governor. The same bill outlined two 0.50% one-time cost-of-living supplements in this fiscal year and again in 2020-21 for state and school retirees. The first would be paid by Dec. 31, 2019, and the second would be paid between Sept. 1 and Oct. 31, 2020.
Most House Democrats voted against that measure and against House Bill 377, which would fund teacher step increases, their $1,000 annual increase for an extra year of experience, and establish the new salary and bonus structure for principals, giving them a 6.2% average pay increase this year.
Other mini-budgets gaining legislative approval this week, and now awaiting action by the Governor, include the following:
- House Bill 111, which establishes a “base budget” for the 2019-21 biennium, including for public schools. The bill would work in conjunction with the continuation budget authority already in use this fiscal year to keep state spending going at 2018-19 levels in the absence of a new budget law. H111 does not release any new or expansion funding for 2019-20 or 2020-21, including for public school enrollment growth or continuing K-12 costs covered only by one-time funds in 2018-19, but merely creates a budget framework that state agencies like the Department of Public Instruction need for operating.
- House Bill 398, that would establish the state’s two-year spending plan for information technology needs. This bill includes appropriating $12 million in 2019-20 and $35 million in 2020-21 for implementing the School Business System Modernization Plan at DPI.
The raises and program spending proposed under all these and other mini-budget bills are not authorized unless they are enacted into law. Based on the General Assembly’s adjournment plans established today in Senate Joint Resolution 694, further legislative action to attempt an override of the H966 budget veto or to move forward any other mini-budgets will not occur until lawmakers reconvene Jan. 14, 2020.