Legislative Update Budget Summary Part I
PENC sent a legislative alert out shortly after the state budget was released on Monday, November 15th. That report gave a quick overlay of the salary piece, and as promised we are providing members with a complete review of the K-12 portion of the budget and how it impacts our educators. We will be breaking this report into two parts, and this one will focus our top legislative priorities, The PENC Big Three.
Legislators passed the state budget on November 17th with an overwhelming support from the minority party. Governor Roy Cooper had a press conference earlier in the week, and he said he will be signing the document. PENC is truly pleased that we will have a state budget, and we definitely saw the negative impact that occurred by not having a budget during the last biennium. Reports from various media sources have been circulating all week detailing what everyone will receive. PENC is always pleased to see funds appropriated to better compensate our educators, and we believe our efforts helped to get more funds allocated for our educators. However, when the onion is peeled back, some of the salary components are quite complicated, and they are not allocated in a simplistic fashion. Here is a look at how we faired with the PENC Big Three:
1. Teacher Pay – This is perhaps the most complex allocation of the salary sections. Most media outlets have advertised either a 5% across the board raise or an average of 5%. PENC is confident in saying that the raise in not 5% across the board, and we are not comfortable saying it is an average of 5% either. These reports are counting the pay steps which are already in law as part of the raise. Even though these pay steps require authorization by passing a state budget, this is not new money but rather something that was already on the table. All teachers in the state will not get a pay step as there are five year gaps starting in the latter years. In reality, the raises are only 2.6% over the biennium, or 1.3% each year. We bring this clarification to light so that teachers will not be disappointed when they see their checks. Teachers will receive a healthy bonus which will be $2,800. Also, there is a 100 million dollars appropriated to assist counties with local supplements. This could be promising for some teachers, but the funding is based on a formula and the formula leaves out five counties (Wake, Mecklenburg, Guilford, Durham, & Buncombe). Finally, there is another $1,000 bonus to help recruit teachers to teach in low wealth counties. PENC’s thought on the teacher salary component is summed up by saying the allocation is complicated and not what we had hoped for. When we put the raise into context and consider how much money the state currently has at its disposal, 2.6% does not seem fair. We also remind legislators that teachers received nothing last biennium, and though different branches of government blame the other, the result didn’t change. The bonuses are a nice gesture, but it would be better coupled with a true 5% raise. The 100 million dollar allocation will significantly supplement most teachers’ salaries, but again, not everyone will receive these dollars. PENC is an organization that supports all teachers, and we would rather see an investment that goes to all teachers. For the record, we are happy that money is being invested to help bolster salaries, but we don’t think it takes into consideration the past, the strife of the pandemic, or inflation rates. We do appreciate all the support we can get from the state’s elected officials, and we will be working hard to get more money allocated next year in the short session.
(Note: other salary components will not as lengthy in explanation as they are not as complicated)
2. Principal and Assistant Principal Pay – First, PENC apologizes to the assistant principals that are members. In our legislative alert, we simply stated that principals would receive a 5% raise, and we at the time thought that included assistant principals as well. Upon further inspection, Principals will get a 5% raise but assistant principals did not fare as well. Assistant Principals are tied to the teacher salary schedule, and they will only receive the 2.6%.
3. Support Staff – Non-certified staff which does include bus drivers and janitors will receive a minimum wage bump and a $1,500 bonus. The new minimum wage will be $13 in year one, and $15 in year two of the biennium.
4. Retirees – Retirees will not receive a traditional COLA, but rather what is being called a cost-of-living bonus. The bonus is 2% in year one, and 3% in the second year.
5. School Psychologists and School Counselors - School psychologists will receive a $3,500 supplement, and counselors will receive a $1,000 bonus.
In summary, PENC believes we helped to influence legislators to consider more funding. The total figures are much larger than either of the previous budgets from either chamber. However, we are not pleased with some of the complexities, and situations where some employees are valued more than others. Again, we will continue to work hard to help all educators receive what they deserve for having one of the most important jobs on the planet.
Health Care for New Hires
One of PENC’s top priorities was to reverse the law that took away health care benefits for new hires starting in 2021. The change in the law was due to arguments of not knowing what the unfunded liability would be during the gap years before retirees would be eligible for Medicare. PENC was successful getting movement in the House version of the budget with the installment of health savings accounts for new hires. Though we recognize that this is not health insurance, it was a small victory. In the end, the provision was struck and new hires remain in the same situation. PENC will keep working hard to restore health insurance because we see this as a big problem for the future. We need people to consider education as career, and the state should be doing everything it can to bring in the best and the brightest to educate our children. We will stay at it and not give up!
PENC sought to not have our schools unfairly judged by school grades knowing the pandemic would have negative effects. Many schools would have received very poor grades. PENC is pleased to report that we did achieve this goal. The provision is not located in the state budget, but rather SB 654. The bill states that the State Board of Education shall not calculate achievement, growth, and performance scores nor display performance scores, growth designations, and letter grades for schools for the 2021-2022 school years. This legislation is fair and we thank the North Carolina General Assembly for working with us on this important endeavor.
A second report is forthcoming to detail and highlight the rest of the K-12 budget.