A budget plan expected to be finalized today in the General Assembly has one major advantage: it puts an end to the ongoing financial negotiations that have lasted a whole month longer than expected. Other than that, it kind of stinks.
House and Senate leaders expect the budget to pass the scrutiny of the Governor’s office and their respective chambers. The plan would give moderate raises to teachers and other state employees, retain Medicaid funding, and end some statewide tax credit programs. It also preserves teacher assistant salaries for a single year.
Other details will be forthcoming, but it seems like these lawmakers need to take a break from patting themselves on the back on meeting “in the middle,” and should take a look at what they’re actually leaving on the table. (Spoiler alert: it’s benefits for experienced teachers.)
By this plan, a teacher in her second year of teaching could see her salary increase from $30,000 to nearly $35,000 in the 2015-2016 school year. That’s a great start, and it’s truly important to encourage talented young teachers to move to the head of the class in the Tar Heel state.
But what about a teacher who’s been teaching since 1999? As a state, we promised teachers that they would receive wage raises throughout her career, including longevity pay that would reward them for staying in our state. Instead, lawmakers have spent the last decade freezing teacher salaries, leading to an inflation-adjusted net decrease in pay. Now that same teacher, who could have looked forward to a 1.5%-4.5% annual increase, has no incentive to stay in the NC school system.
The proposed plan also allows for the retention of teacher aids. While this is fantastic news for increasingly overloaded educators, once again it doesn’t go far enough. Teacher aid funding is only guaranteed for one fiscal year, which means next legislative session we’ll see this fight again. And the teacher aids and other support staff only received a $500 raise for the next year, a move which effectively sets them into a lower class of government employee; all other non-teacher state workers receive a $1000 raise and 5 extra vacation days in the new budget.
And as forecast, this year’s budget cuts raises for teachers earning their Masters Degrees. Unlike previous proposals, all teachers who have at least started their advanced degree by August 1, 2013 are grandfathered in, and will receive extra pay after their graduation. But what about all the teachers who started in the last few semesters? Or those who were planning supplemental education so that they could better teach NC students? It seems like they are welcome to do so, but they better not expect a raise commensurate with their new skills.
Any time a budget is made, something has to give. But in this case, North Carolinians are being asked to accept that education is an extraneous expense, instead of the highest priority.