The state House and Senate on Saturday agreed on the outlines of a budget that gives teachers a raise of about 7 percent and saves the jobs of teacher assistants.
The deal comes a month late and after weeks of sometimes acrimonious negotiations between the two chambers.
But after meetings that took up much of Saturday, both House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger were in accord, using their individual Twitter accounts to announce: “Budget framework agreed upon between House & Senate conferees. Final details expected next week.”
Sen. Tom Apodaca, the Rules Committee chairman, said the details will be worked out in the next few days.
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The size of teacher salaries, whether to fire thousands of teacher assistants and remove thousands of elderly people from the Medicaid rolls were the main issues holding up a revised $21 billion budget for the year that started July 1.
Teacher raises have been a focus throughout the year. Average teacher salaries are scraping the bottom of national rankings. The House originally proposed 5 percent average raises. The Senate’s original proposal was for 11 percent average raises, but they would have come at the cost of thousands of teacher assistant jobs and other education cuts.
In recent weeks, the salary positions moved closer, with the Senate dropping to 8 percent teacher raises and the House increasing to 7 percent.
Sen. Harry Brown, a chief budget negotiator, said under the deal agreed upon Saturday, average teacher raises will be “about” 7 percent. No teacher assistants will be fired under the agreement, the Jacksonville Republican said, but the budget will take away some of the flexibility school districts had to use money allotted for teacher assistants for other expenses.
Districts had been using teacher assistant funds to hire teachers. Brown said the budget takes that teacher assistant money and redirects it to teacher positions.
Negotiators have agreed on a $135 million Medicaid cut, but some of the details are going to be left to budget subcommittee leaders to work out, he said.
Mark Jewell, vice president of the N.C. Association of Educators, said the group was telling members to expect increases in an election year when low teacher salaries were on the radar.
Jewell said he was concerned about how the legislature would pay for the raises and what would happen in future budgets.
“Where’s the revenue coming from is my concern,” he said.
“The salary is an important component,” he said, but the organization doesn’t want teacher assistants, social programs, Medicaid, and university programs sacrificed.
A memo from legislative fiscal analysts last week said revenue from personal income taxes would be lower than anticipated because of the tax cuts the legislature passed last year. The new estimates have the state bringing in about $880 million less over five years.
Negotiators have worked in the shadow of a veto threat. Gov. Pat McCrory said at least twice in recent weeks, most recently on Friday, that he would veto a budget that doesn’t address his “issues and concerns,” which included the cuts to teacher assistants and Medicaid.
And on July 10, McCrory put out a statement saying he’d veto 11 percent raises and anything resembling the Senate plan because of cuts in other services.
McCrory had originally supported a 3 percent raise.
But in that same statement, he said, “In an effort to come to a resolution, but with some concerns,” he had agreed to support the House plan, which at that time had proposed 6 percent teacher raises.