by Lynn Bonner, NC Newsline
March 31, 2023
The budget state House Republicans presented this week would increase teacher salaries an average of 10% over two years and give state employees 7.5% raises over the two-year budget cycle.
School bus drivers would get an extra 2% on top of the overall increase.
Retired teachers and state employees would receive a 1% cost of living increase in each of the two years.
The personal income tax rate, already set to drop from 4.75% this year to 4.5% in 2025, would hit that rate next year.
Legislators began digging into the details of the House $29.8 billion budget Thursday, with the budget committee considering requests for changes.
Work on the House budget is a critical step toward adopting a spending plan, but there’s plenty more the legislature must do. After the House approves its proposal, the Senate will pass its own version. Typically, budget writers and leaders from the two chambers get together to negotiate a final budget they then send to the governor.
Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, released his own very different budget proposal earlier this month that had 18% average teacher raises over two years, and 8% raises for state employees. Cooper wanted to spend about $3 billion more than the House proposal. Republican legislative leaders said at the time that Cooper’s budget was not realistic.
This year, there’s another important factor at play in the process: final enactment of recently approved (and much-celebrated) legislation to expand Medicaid is contingent on passage of a budget bill. And since the House plan includes a host of non-budget policy changes — some of which have already been debated this year as stand-alone bills, while others have been the subject of previous gubernatorial vetoes — Cooper could be placed in a difficult position when the budget bill arrives at his desk.
The list includes:
The retirement age for Appeals Court judges and Supreme Court justices would increase from 72 to 76. Rep. Joe John, a Wake County Democrat, tried to have the provision removed. Bills dealing with the issue have been filed, and the topic should get “a full and complete hearing” separate from the budget, he said. The House budget committee rejected his amendment. Rep. Marcia Morey, a Durham Democrat, wanted to include Superior Court and District Court judges in the provision. The committee voted against it. Republican Chief Justice Paul Newby would benefit from the age increase as he will turn 72 in 2027, a year before his current term is scheduled to expire.
Private schools that receive funds from the voucher program would no longer have to submit student test results to the state. The schools must continue administering nationally standardized tests to students in grades three through 12 once a year. Rep. Lindsey Prather, a Buncombe County Democrat, tried unsuccessfully to have the reporting requirement restored.
The budget allows more children to use vouchers to attend private schools by changing eligibility requirements. Older children would be able to use vouchers to enter private schools. The law is now limited to children first using vouchers for kindergarten, first, or second grades.
State and local governments and public schools would be prohibited from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations. The House is debating the issue as a stand-alone bill, but the policy is also included in the budget.
The State Board of Elections would be prohibited from joining the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC, an organization states use to update their voter rolls. The organization has been the target of a far-right disinformation campaign, NPR reported. State Rep. Allison Dahle, a Wake County Democrat, proposed an amendment that would have allowed the state to use ERIC. The House budget committee voted down her amendment.
The budget sets up local and state committees to hear parent challenges of school instructional materials and procedures for having challenged materials removed.
A commission made up largely of political appointees would recommend public school content standards, or what students should study in each grade, to the State Board of Education. Rep. Julie Von Haefen, a Wake Democrat, tried unsuccessfully to delete this section from the budget. The provision erodes the State Board of Education’s constitutional authority, she said. Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, a North Wilkesboro Republican, said the commission sets up a way for the public to have input into the standards.
Independent boards of trustees would operate the state school for blind students and the state schools for deaf students. The provisions are contained in House bill 11. Having won both House and Senate approval, the bill is sitting on Cooper’s desk. He vetoed a similar bill last year, calling it “blatantly unconstitutional.”
The budget changes the Charter School Advisory Board to the Charter School Review Board and gives it added powers. The review board would be able to give final approval to charter applications and renew charters. Those responsibilities now lie with the State Board of Education.
Public schools would have to post descriptions of all classroom course materials and supplemental materials to websites, along with available links to the materials. The committee rejected an amendment that would eliminate this requirement from the budget.
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