Good economies give lawmakers good options on budget

Hours before thousands of public school teachers were scheduled to rally Wednesday in Raleigh while flashing a list of demands, including for better pay, House Republicans rolled out a budget plan that provides this for teachers — better pay. And more.

Veteran teachers would stand to benefit the most. Legislators in recent years have worked to pay teachers more with a series of pay raises, but with an emphasis on those entering the profession, not those who might be toward the end of a career.

The timing of the budget plan’s roll-out, we would wager, was not coincidental, but likely was an effort to calm the crowd so to speak.

House Republicans say the plan would boost teacher pay an average of 4.8 percent. Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, a teacher with 30 years experience in Wilkes County, said his pay would rise from $52,000 to $60,500 if the plan were adopted as is.

Not bad.

The proposal also appears to satisfy another demand that legislators likely saw on placards Wednesday, and that is that teachers who receive advanced degrees are rewarded with a 10 percent pay bump. Teachers who earned a master’s degree in advance of 2015 already get the extra pay, but it was done away with, leaving a gap. Sen. Danny Britt has pushed hard the last two budget cycles for the increase.

Of note to Robeson County, the House plan also provides a $4,000 signing bonus to teachers who work in poor and rural counties such as Robeson, so it could be of help locally as the Public Schools of Robeson County has struggled to place a teacher in every classroom.

The plan also provides $30 million in grants for local school districts to hire resource officers, of which there are too few in our schools, and mental health support personnel; pay for school safety equipment and training; and help provide services for students in behavioral crisis.

It calls for spending $23.9 billion, which is 3 percent more than the current year, and manages that while also calling for some tax cuts for personal income and some businesses.

It releases money for the Hurricane Florence recovery, and begins rebuilding the state’s rainy-day fund that had climbed to $2 billion before $800 million was taken for the Florence recovery.

Legislators, buoyed by strong national and state economies, are in the enviable position of increasing pay, enhancing services, and doing so with targeted tax cuts. The anticipated conversation then will be how far to go in each of those directions.

It is certainly a good starting place for all of North Carolina, especially Robeson County, as budget talks begin in earnest. The Senate plan is expected to start taking shape in a couple of weeks, and Gov. Roy Cooper has already released his $25.2 billion plan, which was overly ambitious and included a 9.1 percent teacher pay raise. Cooper could afford to be so generous with his proposal as it was essentially DOA.

So there appears to be strong consensus to do more for education in North Carolina. More importantly, there appears to be the money to get it done.