Legislators are expected to vote Thursday on a $20.2 billion budget that gives state employees and teachers raises and shrinks the amount that school systems would have to cut from their budgets next year.
Legislative leaders praised their work, but school administrators, school board members and Gov. Bev Perdue reserved opinions until they could look at the numbers.
A possible veto by Perdue, a Democrat, looms over the discussions. The House schedule for finishing its work for the year takes into account a potential veto.
She vetoed last years budget but the legislature overrode her veto.
This budget is a good faith effort to restore funding and to provide some certainty in a number of other areas, education and health and human services probably the most important, said House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Mecklenburg County Republican.
Funding cuts devastating
But House Minority Leader Joe Hackney on Wednesday night called the cuts to education devastating, with the money lost equivalent to salaries for 3,400 teachers.
He questioned Republicans support for traditional public schools.
I think any alternative to public schools, they are supportive of, said Hackney, an Orange County Democrat. Theyre supportive of home schools, theyre supportive of religious schools, theyre supportive of online education charters, theyre supportive of traditional charters. Theyre supportive of any program that does not involve funding adequately our traditional public schools for everyone.
The budget cancels $143.3 million in budget cuts that local school districts would have to make. Thats less than the $330 million the House wanted districts to be able to keep next year, but more than the $74 million relief in the Senate proposal.
Local school districts must make $360 million in discretionary cuts next year and face the loss of $259 million in federal stimulus money, which runs out in a few months.
State employees and school employees will receive raises 1.2 percent for the first time in four years. Retirees will get a 1 percent cost-of-living increase.
The budget delivers what could be a fatal below to the state teacher recruitment program, the N.C. Teaching Fellows. The House revived the program in its budget, but Senate Republicans dont want it.
Republicans want to kill the program because it started under Democrats, Hackney said. Its really not clear to me whose little vendetta that is, but its somebodys little vendetta.
$27 million education reform plan
The budget also includes a literacy plan requiring more children to read at grade level before theyre promoted to fourth grade, requires A to F grades for schools, and directs local districts to develop plans for teacher performance bonuses. The budget includes $27 million for this package of changes, pushed by Senate leader Phil Berger, an Eden Republican.
The budget did not include two controversial school proposals: one to end teacher tenure and another to allow businesses to receive dollar-for-dollar state tax credits for donations to private-school scholarships. Tillis said the scholarships could still be considered this year.
Natalie Beyer, a Board of Education member from Durham County, said the so-called short session was not the time to pass such weighty changes to education.
I am most concerned that the proposal contains major untested education policy initiatives that have not had input from teachers and principals nor have they had ample public debate in the short session, she said.
Teachers said they were pleased to get raises after four years of stagnant pay. The House had wanted one-time bonuses for teachers and state employees.
Bethany Meyers, a Johnston County middle school teacher, said teachers were feeling disrespected and disliked by the Republican Senate, but appreciated the respect the raises demonstrated.