State lawmakers unveil budget with raises for educators, Raise the Age

State lawmakers unveil budget with raises for educators, Raise the Age

RALEIGH, N.C. (WBTV/AP) - Republicans at the North Carolina General Assembly have announced a two-year state budget deal that gives raises to teachers, state employees and retirees next year but puts off income tax breaks until 2019.

A spokesperson for Governor Roy Cooper says it looks like the proposal doesn't do enough for education, economic development and the middle class. But Senate leader Phil Berger says the plan includes many of Cooper's priorities.

When it comes to teacher pay, teachers would receive an average increase of about 3-percent. In some cases, it could be an extra $30 a month up to a few hundred dollars, based on experience.

North Carolina is expected to rank 35th for 2017 by the National Educators Association. Many years, teachers have gone without raises and the State has ranked much closer to the bottom. Still, advocates for teachers and students say this year's proposed budget shortchanges education.

This budget doesn't do enough to attract new teachers into the profession or retain our most experienced teachers to keep them in the classroom. In addition, the budget continues to siphon off public school money by expanding the private school voucher program and also creating a brand new one," said North Carolina Association of Educators president Mark Jewell.

For Charlotte teacher Allison Dowker, the raise shows progress but she says it's not enough to change her financial picture. She and many of other single-income teachers work two jobs. "I've struggled every year with finances. I wouldn't be able to save money," said Dowker, "I can't do that just on a teacher's salary."

She works at the Harrisburg Family Restaurant, not just in the summer, but all year round to cover extra expenses and savings. The moonlighting has taken her customers by surprise. One man left her a $150 tip when he realized she was a teacher.

Dowker said it was a meaningful gesture which left a lasting impression. The action lawmakers take in Raleigh leaves an impression, too. "I'm glad they are working towards it, but it really doesn't make a significant amount of change for me," she added about the raise.

Senate and House leaders unveiled details of their spending plan Monday, two weeks after negotiations between the two chambers officially opened.

The two chambers will vote later this week on the compromise measure, which would then go to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper to sign.

The budget agreement also would end the practice of automatically sending most 16- and 17-year-olds charged with crimes to adult court, part of the push to "Raise the Age" in North Carolina. The effort has drawn praise from law enforcement and court officials, with a requirement for sufficient funding to make the program successful.

In the budget, more than $13 million is allocated for a Youth Center in Rockingham to help support "Raise the Age." There's also a half-million dollars allocated each of the next two years for the "Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act."

The Department of Public Safety is one of many agencies that support "Raise the Age" based on research that shows the State will save millions of dollars long-term by helping youthful offenders make better choices and curb recidivism.

DPS released this statement earlier to WBTV: "The Department of Public Safety is pleased to see that with this budget the General Assembly has made a clear commitment toward the investments needed to begin the planning for and implementation of Raise the Age in North Carolina. We are hopeful that the additional resources necessary to fully implement this policy will be made available no later than the next budget cycle."

A spokesperson for the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office said they are waiting to see more details about the budget numbers and impact, but had previously expressed support. The County does not currently have a juvenile detention center, even though it is the State's most populated county. The Office has had success with its high school in the jail aimed at helping youthful offenders, which would not be immediately affected.

Copyright 2017 WBTV. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.