The state budgetoffers a mixed bag

At first glimpse the long-awaited state budget, which still has two required chamber votes before going to Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk, is a mixed bag which offers some much-needed help to rural counties like Sampson, offers a smattering of good things for education and keeps some programs, like driver’s education in public schools that should have never been toyed with in the first place.

Given the lateness of getting a budget, is the two-year fiscal plan a great one? Perhaps not, but it is a compromise bill that works and, in general, offers a scope that counties, municipalities and other public entities can work within.

While there are educational pluses in the budget, we can’t, however, say it strongly assists North Carolina’s schools do the jobs expected of them when it comes to providing high-quality and competitive educational opportunities for its students and better pay for its teachers.

Nothing within this fiscal plan actually brings teachers in line with the competitive salaries offered in other states. In fact, nothing within the plan puts most government employees on the same playing field with their counterparts in other areas of the country.

According to The Associated Press, Senate Republicans on Tuesday scheduled the first of two required chamber votes on their compromise state budget with House Republicans. The House could begin voting today (Wednesday).

The plan spends nearly $22 billion and includes money for teaching assistants and driver’s education in schools. There are $750 bonuses for state employees and teachers. Teachers also get experienced-based raises.

Before we tout lawmakers too loudly, let’s consider first that driver’s education should have never been tampered with by legislators. That they kept it is a good thing, but nothing they should get a pat on the back for, not one.

That they are offering up $750 bonuses for state employees and teachers is also admirable. Granted, it is something, but it’s not a raise and it is not something that employees can take to the bank again next year. It is just what is says, a bonus, and one, quite frankly that after taxes will amount to a very small ‘That-a-boy or That-a-girl” to employees who deserve far more.

Legislators are providing salary hikes for early-career teachers, lifting that pay from $33,000 to $35,000, and they are providing other teachers with what has been termed experienced-based raises. That’s good, and much needed. The question becomes is it enough? As we look deeper into the budget, perhaps we will better be able to answer that question.

In fairness, lawmakers have offered other educational funding, such as:

— Funding to school districts to hire teacher assistants, with restrictions on shifting the funds to other education needs.

— Expanding summer-reading camps in public schools to help first- and second-graders at risk of academic failure.

— Reducing class sizes in first grade in the 2016-17 school year.

— Providing more money for public school textbooks, digital learning and broadband and Wi-Fi access.

All those things are greatly needed and will be greatly appreciated by educators. But it will take time to dissect the fiscal plan, looking not only to see what’s being funded but also to see what is not. That may be where the true picture lies.

We are at least glad that lawmakers have found a middle ground that allows a budget to have a shot at passage and implementation.

In the end, we just hope lawmakers didn’t sell the state short and overburden taxpayers while only providing a slight panacea to education and other much needed North Carolina services.