Senate Republicans are willing to drop the requirement that teachers give up tenure to get 11 percent raises this year, a major concession in budget negotiations for a chamber thats been trying for several years to erase the job protection.
Sen. Harry Brown, a lead budget writer, announced the offer Tuesday during a public negotiation session on the $21.1 billion budget.
In an interview after the session, Senate leader Phil Berger said he was even willing to reconsider cuts to teacher assistants, a major feature of the Senate budget.
But House and Senate negotiators remain far apart on the main issues that have delayed the adoption of a revised state budget.
Theres no agreement on the size of teacher raises or how to pay for them. And the House and Senate disagree on how to overhaul the Medicaid program, government health insurance for poor children, their parents and elderly and disabled people.
Tuesdays meeting was more of a debate on the merits of the House and Senate teacher pay plans than a negotiation.
The two sides didnt agree on much, although the Senate offered to leave the state Crime Lab in the state Department of Justice as the House wants, rather than move it to the Department of Public Safety.
The negotiating committee holds another public meeting Wednesday morning.
If were going this slow, were going to be here until Christmas, said Rep. Bryan Holloway, a Stokes County Republican. Were going to have to move a little quicker.
Last years budget included a provision that would have phased out tenure by 2018. Teachers and the N.C. Association of Educators sued, and a Superior Court judge this May issued a permanent injunction with his ruling that taking tenure from teachers who had earned it was an unconstitutional taking of property rights.
The Senate came back in May with a budget proposal that tied significant raises to tenure. Teachers who voluntarily gave up whats called career status would get more money. Pay would be frozen this year for teachers who kept their tenure.
The latest Senate budget offer would uncouple tenure and raises.
Sen. Jerry Tillman, an Archdale Republican who helps write education budgets, said that in his mind, tenure and raises were always separate issues.
To me, it makes sense to separate two nonrelated issues, Tillman said. But the Senate may not be giving up on its tenure campaign. Tillman said the Senate would propose separate tenure legislation.
Well get rid of tenure in 2018, he said. That issue will be settled.
The Senate proposal for raises would cost $465 million. Using colorful charts, Brown showed how the Senate budget would increase average teacher pay to 27th in the nation, up from 46th in 2011-2012. The increase would bring average raises to the third highest in an 11-state region.
Average teacher pay was 24th in national rankings and second highest in the region in 2006-2007 but dropped in the years since.
One raise in five years
Teachers and other state employees received only one 1.2 percent raise in the last five years. The lack of a raise last year and the states descent to the near-bottom of national teacher-pay rankings have made increases a focus in this election year.
Weve got to get in the game as far as teacher pay goes, nationally, said Brown, a Jacksonville Republican.
Brown used his charts to compare the Senate plan, which would raise the average salary to $51,198, with the House proposal for 5 percent average raises, which would raise the average to $48,234 and bring the states national ranking to 37th and its regional ranking to seventh.
To get the money for big raises, the Senate made deep cuts elsewhere that included a $233 million reduction in teacher assistants.
Holloway said teacher assistants are important, especially now that the state has a new law requiring most third-graders to read at grade level before theyre promoted.
We dont want to put anybody out of work, Holloway said. We want to keep folks with a job.
James E. Ford, North Carolina Teacher of the Year, came to Raleigh with three regional teachers of the year to deliver a letter applauding the focus on teacher raises.
He wrote of the proposed 11 percent increase: While teachers are appreciative of this clear recognition of the need for greater compensation, I fear the sacrifices of teacher assistants, tenure, and nurses are too severe to justify.
Ford, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg world history teacher, and the group met with House Speaker Thom Tillis and Gov. Pat McCrory.
After the meeting, McCrory emphasized his and the teachers opposition to the teacher assistant cuts and teacher support for a plan that will lead to compensation for those who become leaders in their schools.
I want a long-term plan to make it more than a career stop, McCrory said.
After the budget negotiation, Berger said he was sticking with the 11 percent raises.
But I dont think were necessarily tied to the teacher assistant cuts, the Eden Republican said. Were just looking for revenue.
Lottery ads debated
The Senate and House also remain divided over lottery proposals. The House would raise from 1 percent to 2 percent of sales the amount the lottery could spend on advertising. But the House would also add new restrictions on ads. The proposal is projected to raise about $30 million in additional lottery money for the budget.
Calling the House proposal counterproductive, Brown made a counteroffer: Raise ad spending to 1.25 percent of sales without the restrictions.
Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican and a lead budget writer, said including the advertising restrictions would be important to House members who had misgivings at the beginning.
Not everyone was happy with the idea of more lottery ads.
Can you imagine the Coney Island atmosphere were going to have? said Sen. Neal Hunt, a Republican budget writer from Raleigh. Do we want that kind of atmosphere here in North Carolina? I dont think so.
Bonner: 919-829-4821; Twitter: @Lynn_Bonner