RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The state House of Representatives was poised to take a key vote Wednesday on its version of the state budget as Democrats voiced opposition to several aspects of it, particularly related to education funding and policy changes.
Republicans unveiled their two-year budget plan earlier this week, calling for higher pay for teachers and other state workers as well as tax cuts for individuals and businesses.
State leaders learned earlier this year that North Carolina was projected to take in $6.5 billion more than expected in the next two years, prompting Republicans to argue they should send some of that money back to taxpayers.
“But, we also want to keep in mind the taxpayer because that’s the whole reason we’re here, is to make sure that the people who pay the bills in this state have a place to grow,” said Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln).
Parents, teachers and other advocates for education came to the General Assembly Wednesday, saying state lawmakers should invest more in schools.
Rep. Julie von Haefen (D-Wake) said the proposed budget does not meet the requirements in a recent court order calling on the state to spend more to meet its constitutional obligation to provide a sound, basic education.
The Associated Press reported the judge called for at least $5.6 billion in new spending through 2028.
Von Haefen said that represented “the floor, not the ceiling” of what the state should spend.
Susan Book of Cary said it’s challenging for children like her son Emerson, who has autism, to get the help he needs in the classroom.
“For him to access education, he needs resources and services. And right now, they’re sparse,” she said. “Tax cuts are the wrong direction.”
The budget plan includes one-time bonuses and pay raises for educators. K-12 teachers would see raises of 5.5 percent on average over the next two years. It also contains some provisions educators have wanted to see for years, including eliminating the requirement that teachers pay $50 to help hire a substitute when they take a personal day and restoring the salary boost for teachers with master’s degrees.
“Even though it has some things that we like, that the Governor has been pushing for, it really falls woefully short of where we need to be,” said House Democratic Leader Rep. Robert Reives.
The budget also includes policy changes that Democrats say they oppose, including a new requirement that lesson plans and instructional materials be posted online to give people the opportunity to review them and potentially challenge them as being “unfit” for students. The move comes as Republicans have tried to pass bills addressing critical race theory in schools.
“To me, we’ve gotten to a scary point with education,” said Reives. “You give the teachers a raise, but then you add another million bosses.”
When asked why that’s included, Rep. Saine said, “This is how laws get passed, and it’s nothing new. It’s the way things have always worked around here and it’s nothing new.”