New Year, Old Problems: An NC Education News Redux

McCrory and Tillis go to battle with their own party.

Happy New Fiscal Year, North Carolinians! July 1 marks the start of the state's budget year, so now's a good time to check in about what's going on in Raleigh in education news. Here's the short version:

New year, same old budget. So far, Governor McCrory, the state house and the state senate have each offered independent budget amendment proposals for 2014-15. Last year, the legislature passed a two-year budget (which in theory will continue through 14-15), one that offered no raises to public school teachers and continued along a path to end teacher tenure.

This year, after thousands of people protested the budget, legislators have hummed a different tune and brought forth amendments to modify funding allocations. The Governor proposed 2 percent pay hikes for teachers, the House said five percent, and the Senate offered eleven percent. Each amendment plan used different sources of funding and came with caveats: the House bill thought we could bring in extra lottery funds to pay teachers; the Senate bill required teachers to sacrifice career status for pay hikes.

But Republicans got mired down in the details. None of the budget amendments seemed to take the lead, and no one in the legislature seemed eager to compromise with the other chamber's plan. The issue that seems to have divided the House and Senate the most is how to plan for and fund the state's Medicaid program. The program is in complete disarray, and legislators are worried about how much money the state owes to recipients and their doctors once everything is straightened out.


Pigeons Down on Market Square

THERE'S A GOOD SUMMER RAIN starting to fall, the kind where the sky gets fast-dark and the rain falls in grape-sized pellets, spread out at first, a couple of splatters here and there, separated by yards in distance, plopping down on the bread-oven asphalt outside. From there, it spreads into a little dollop and evaporates, and the smell of fresh rain coming up off the blacktop takes me back to an amusement park, back when I was in the eighth grade.

We were all there with our school, an end-of-year celebration trip of sorts that amounted to a funny sort of adolescent culmination, a dash of grown-up freedom to wander on our own in a theme park full of childhood conquests. It makes sense when you're thirteen.

It rained. It was the summertime kind of rain, the kind I described above, and my friends and I were somewhere on the edge of the park, a small core of friends connected by the fast-evaporating bonds of middle school.

Eventually we stumbled upon a funny realization: everybody goes inside when it rains at an amusement park. The arcades filled up, the gift stores were crammed, the indoor attractions and their air conditioning were safe havens. Nobody was riding the roller coasters.


Did Teachers Just Hit the Jackpot?

The NC House is playing nice with teachers, but their revenue stream is more than interesting.

The North Carolina House of Representatives unveiled its budget proposal this week, the third and final fiscal reveal in the state capital now that the Governor's and Senate's budgets are out, and it seems like North Carolina teachers are winning the lottery.

The highlights for teachers in the House bill include an average five percent salary raise--without having to sacrifice tenure--and continued funding for teacher assistants. Beginning teachers would earn $33,000 per year. Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

After seeing the intense backlash against the Senate bill, which proposed 11 percent average salary increases but came at the cost of tenure and thousands of teacher assistant jobs, the House must have decided to play it safe and give educators plenty of what they were asking for. The original version of the bill completely ended the last-legs funding for the NC Teaching Fellows program, but even those funds were put back (albeit by pulling the money from the textbook fund).

Make no mistake: this bill does a lot for teachers. But this is politics, and that means everybody can't win all the time. The House budget proposal has plenty to raise eyebrows inside and outside of education.