Thursday, February 27, 2014

Head of NC Legislature's Education Taskforce Claims North Carolina Does Not Have the Funding to Pay Its Teachers and Fund Its Schools - But the Evidence Says Otherwise

February 27, 2014

For more information: Atty. Jamie Phillips Cole, Public Policy Coordinator, 919.682.4700 
Sarah Bufkin, Media Coordinator, 404.285.3413
Head of NC Legislature's Education Taskforce Claims North Carolina Does Not Have the Funding to Pay Its Teachers and Fund Its Schools - But the Evidence Says Otherwise

RALEIGH - State Sen. Jerry Tillman, a leading GOP lawmaker and the head of a newly created legislative task force on education funding, told an assembly of concerned educators, parents and community leaders on Feb. 25 that North Carolina lacked the funding to provide better compensation for all its teachers.

When discussing a proposal pushed by extremists in the General Assembly to lure 25 percent of North Carolina's teachers away from their tenured-track positions with $500 a year bonuses, Tillman said that the state could only find the money to make that offer to a quarter of the state's public school teachers.   

At the first meeting of the NC Educator Effectiveness and Compensation Taskforce held Tuesday, Tillman said:

 "We had enough money to do 25 percent. If we had the money, we wouldn't do just 25 percent. But having less money than we need to work with... we had to work with the dollars available. On the plus side, the $2.5 billion deficit that we inherited is gone, the retirement and health system is fully taken care of for right now. The only unknown elephant in the room is Medicaid, if we had that solved, we could direct dedicated continued dollars to education."

But what Tillman means when he says the General Assembly has "less money than we need to work with" is that he and other hard-right legislators are more interested in giving money to the wealthy and corporations than they are in fully funding our public schools.

Instead of voting to give our teachers a much-need pay raise, Gov. Pat McCrory, Speaker Thom Tillis, Senate Leader Phil Berger, Budget Director Art Pope and the other Tea Party extremists passed a corporate-designed tax plan that gave huge windfalls to the wealthiest four percent while raising the tax burden on the families hurting most.

The total amount of revenue North Carolina will lose under this unjust tax plan? A whopping $524.4 million over the next two years.

With an additional $524.4 million in tax revenue, North Carolina could have easily raised teacher salaries across the board for all teachers. Instead, these Tea Party legislators are debating how to keep teacher pay and school funding low.

Teachers in our state have not seen a raise since 2008, and many of them had to spend their 1.2-percent wage increase on rising health-insurance premiums. Today, 18 percent of our public school teachers now subsist on the lowest base pay of $30,800, which puts North Carolina 46th in the nation for teachers' pay and is $9,500 below the national average. Under our base pay system, it takes a new teacher 16 years to reach an annual salary of $40,000.

Extremist lawmakers have used the recession as an excuse to drain crucial funding from our public education system. Between 2008 and 2013, the state Department of Instruction reported that North Carolina eliminated $170 million in public school funding. 

In 2013, North Carolina public schools ranked 48th in per pupil spending - behind Mississippi. That dismal showing was before the Tea Party legislators pushed through a voucher program that would drain $10 million this year and another $40 million during the 2015-2016 school year from the public education fund.

Tillman has tried before to make these claims that North Carolina does not have the money to pay our teachers and to provide a quality education for our children. Last summer, he said, "We didn't have enough to fund all the educational needs."

The Budget and Tax Policy Center out of the NC Justice Center quickly uncovered Tillman's evasion last July by releasing a list of all the education programs and initiatives that could have been funded had the extremists not been dead-set on cutting taxes for the wealthy.

The BTC release noted that the $524.4 million would have allowed North Carolina to:
  • Keep 1 in 5 teacher assistant jobs in FY 2014 and FY 2015;
  • Prevent cuts to need-based aid to low-income colleges students;
  • Prevent a tuition increase at community colleges in FY 2014 and FY 2015;
  • Keep the Teaching Fellows Program in FY 2014 and FY 2015;
  • Protect salary supplement for teachers with masters degrees in FY 2015;
  • Prevent the higher mileage threshold for school bus replacement;
  • PLUS provide a 1% salary increase for ALL teachers AND state employees in FY 2014 and more.
This is not an issue of dollars but of our priorities as a state.



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