POLITICS AND THE BUDGET

This week the N.C. House of Representatives approved a $20.5 billion budget for 2012 – 13. The budget is slightly more than that for the current year, but better than expected revenues enabled the lawmakers to pass on the governor’s proposed half-cent sales tax. Some $250 million was added to the House version for education to replace loss of federal dollars that went to local districts. Otherwise, some agencies experienced additional cuts or no increases. With five Democrats supporting the budget, it is veto-proof.

Republicans will go into the elections boasting of no tax increases and demanding dramatic changes in public education. Democrats will decry cuts in education (especially the university system) and de-funding of Planned Parenthood and its services to poor women along with cuts to Medicaid. So the spending plan also is a political document.

State employees would get a one-time $250 bonus but no salary increase. Teacher salary increases would be tied to performance.

The Senate budget writers have also crafted a budget plan which will rolled out in the next two weeks. It is expected to have significant differences from the House version, especially with funds for education. Both Chambers are protecting the community colleges program and appropriations for the Manufacturing Solutions Center and the Textiles Technology Center are the same as the previous year.

PUBLIC EDUCATION AND ACCOUNTABILITY

This week the Senate approved a bill sponsored by President Pro-Tem Phil Berger that calls for significant reform in the state’s public education K-12. The bill, passed along party line vote, would:

  • Eliminate tenure for teachers. New teachers would be hired with one-year contracts.
  • Remove obstacles for firing poor teachers and giving salary increases based on performance. The bill includes procedures for firing poor teachers and principals.
  • Add funds for schools to expand teaching days from 180 to 185.
  • Give some school systems the option of actually reducing teaching days to the equivalent of 146 days (1025 hours). This was pushed by Republican senators from mountain districts often impacted by severe winter weather. Some described Saturday make-up days as “a joke” with students looking a movies.
  • Require students who do not read at proficient third-grade level to repeat the grade. Funds are provided for extra tutors and parental counseling. Last year some 45,000 third graders were not able to read and 90 percent were passed to the fourth grade.
  • Implementation of the bill would require an additional $47 million in the next fiscal year. Required appropriations in subsequent years would rise to $84 million annually.

How to improve public education continues to frustrate legislators and many of their constituents. The major obstacle: unmotivated parents.

WHEN WILL THE FAT LADY SING?

Probably around June 23. The final session of the 2011 – 12 General Assembly will adjourn at the end of the third week, according to some insiders. Aside from the budget, the Legislature has fracking drilling procedures for natural gas and regulatory issues to conclude.

*** OUR WORK CONTINUES ***

Fully one-third of the next General Assembly in 2013 will be new as veterans are retiring or who lost re-election bids. Almost that number were new at the beginning of 2011, meaning that two-thirds of the legislators in the next biennial will have served less than two terms. Connecting and bonding with new representatives and senators are necessary to carry out our pro-business agenda for hosiery and textiles manufacturers and their suppliers.

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