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Senate Budget Plan Would Mean Big Changes To Education And Medicaid

photo of the North Carolina Senate
Government & Heritage Library, State Library of NC

Senate leaders have released their proposed budget for the next fiscal year. They’re looking to spend about 21 billion dollars. Their plan would make substantial changes to the Medicaid program - and would scale back several state agencies, including the Department of Justice. Senate leaders also proposed hefty pay raises for public school teachers. 

For months now, Senate leaders have made it very clear that they want to give teachers pay raises. But they’ve been pretty coy about the details until this week.

Senate leader Phil Berger says he wants to give teachers an average 11 percent pay raise if teachers decide to give up their tenure, or career status.

“Our plan will replace the archaic 37-step system that we currently have with an entirely new base pay scale and provide more than 5,800 dollar average raises,” Berger said.

If the plan passes, it would be the largest teacher pay raise in state history, and much larger than the Governor’s proposal of about two percent.

To pay for it, Senate Republicans want to spend about 390-million dollars less for other parts of K-12 education.

To pay for it, Senate Republicans want to spend about 390-million dollars less for other parts of K-12 education. That would cut the money for teacher assistants by nearly half.

Republican Senator Jerry Tillman says the state would keep teacher assistants for kindergarten and first grades (K-1) – but get rid of about 7,400 assistants in second and third grades. 

“Research shows that in K-1 [teaching assistant are] an integral part. It’s a lot more cloudy on what good that they do as far as leading to instructional gains other than K-1,” he said.

Teacher assistants aren’t the only positions that would be eliminated in the budget proposal.  The Department of Public Instruction would face big cuts and the Department of Justice would be slashed by more than half.

Proposed Changes At The State Bureau of Investigations

In addition, Senate leaders want to move the State Bureau of Investigations over to the Department of Public Safety.

"We’re looking at SBI now, where it should be under Public Safety instead of being held under political office,” said Republican Senator Andrew Brock.

Brock said the SBI and the State Crime Lab should move from the Attorney General’s Office to the rest of the state’s law enforcement divisions.

The Senate plan would also move the state’s Medicaid program.

Lawmakers want to move Medicaid out of the Department of Health and Human Services and place it under the oversight of a new agency.

Brock said they also want to make changes to eligibility requirements, which would cut down on the number of people Medicaid serves.

“It was originally for certain areas, certain classes, certain people and we saw then we saw the expansion, the abuse of it, we saw the cost of it really spiral out of control,” he said.

But many Democratic senators say instead the spending plan hurts the most vulnerable and that it’s just irresponsible.

'They have chosen to give tax breaks to millionaires and large out of state corporations -- in order to cut public education and -- eliminate critical services to the needy, blind and disabled.' - Democratic Senator Josh Stein

They have chosen to give tax breaks to millionaires and large out of state corporations to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars this year in order to cut public education and frankly eliminate critical services to the needy, blind and disabled,” said Senator Josh Stein, a Democratic Senator who represents Wake County.

It’s a really simple concept of robbing Peter to Pay Paul,” added Joel Ford, a Democratic Senator from Mecklenberg County.

Ford is especially critical of the senate’s proposed plan to get rid of teacher assistants in order to give raises to teachers who forgo tenure.  

“I currently have a daughter in third grade and I deal with our public school on a regular basis and to see those positions are going to be cut,” he said. “Those teachers are going to be struggling, especially when you’re looking at the fact that many of our public schools are dealing with larger classrooms. They need the additional support in the classroom.”

Ford also disagrees with proposed changes to the Medicaid program, and funding for transportation.

The Senate is expected to vote on their budget proposal by this weekend. 

Reema Khrais joined WUNC in 2013 to cover education in pre-kindergarten through high school. Previously, she won the prestigious Joan B. Kroc Fellowship. For the fellowship, she spent a year at NPR where she reported nationally, produced on Weekends on All Things Considered and edited on the digital desk. She also spent some time at New York Public Radio as an education reporter, covering the overhaul of vocational schools, the contentious closures of city schools and age-old high school rivalries.
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