Each week, staff at Carolina Journal looks back at the week in N.C. politics and chooses several interesting, relevant stories you may have missed. Here’s this week’s review:
Budget buster: The Office of State Budget and Management and the legislature’s Fiscal Research Division opened the Memorial Day weekend on a down note by forecasting Friday, May 22, the state would get $5 billion less than expected for the 2019-21 budget biennium. The COVID-19 economic shutdown will cost the state $774 million in Highway Trust Fund money and $4.2 billion in General Fund revenues. In a joint statement, House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, and Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said: “We continue to work collaboratively with the Governor on fiscal responses to this crisis, just as we did earlier this month with a consensus $1.6 billion COVID relief appropriation. We look forward to receiving the Governor’s budget recommendations as soon as possible to move forward with a plan of action.”
Teacher salaries: The average teacher salary in North Carolina has risen to $54,682 — an increase of 1.4% increase over the previous year. Last year, North Carolina ranked fourth in the Southeast for teacher pay, but now the state is second, said Terry Stoops, vice president of research and director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation. Only Georgia is higher, at $57,137. Despite the debate over the numbers, average salary doesn’t mean much, Stoops said. “Average salaries reveal nothing about the relative quality or productivity of the teacher workforce,” Stoops wrote. “North Carolina does not pay teachers based on quality or productivity.”
Tyson Foods: Hundreds of workers at a Tyson Foods poultry processing plant in Wilkesboro have tested positive for COVID-19. Out of the facility’s 2,244 employees and contractors, 570 tested positive. Most of those who tested positive were asymptomatic, the News & Observer reported. “We are using the most up-to-date data and resources to support our team members, and we are committed to ensuring they feel safe and secure when they come to work,” said Tom Brower, senior vice president of health and safety for Tyson Foods, in a news release.
Remote learning plans: The State Board of Education approved a policy requiring school districts to develop remote learning plans for the 2020-21 school year. School districts have until July 20 to submit their plans to the Department of Public Instruction for approval. Any plan must address 15 components, including training for staff and teachers in the effective use of remote learning resources and ensure students with disabilities have equal access to remote instruction. The remote learning plans should describe limitations in implementing a quality plan.
Outdoor dining confusion: Part of Phase Two of Gov. Roy Cooper’s COVID-19 rules allows restaurants to reopen with limited indoor seating and social distancing requirements. But Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, isn’t clear about COVID-19 rules for outdoor dining. At a May 21 news briefing, CJ asked Cohen whether restaurants could expand their outdoor dining capacity by adding space (with permission) on sidewalks and streets, in parking lots, or on adjacent outside space. Cohen said she didn’t know and would consult with the N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association for guidance. Some N.C. cities are working on their own plans. Officials in Colorado and Florida have encouraged the expansion to help restaurants reopen profitably while following social-distancing guidelines.
Senate budget bills: Senate Budget Chairs Harry Brown, R-Onslow; Kathy Harrington R-Gaston; and Brent Jackson, R-Sampson, filed 18 bills May 19 signaling the Senate’s budget priorities for the legislative short session. “The intent in filing the bills now, before legislators have a clear revenue picture, is to signal to the press and the public as early as possible this session’s top funding priorities in the face of a multi-billion dollar revenue shortfall,” a news release from Senate Republicans said. The bills cover many subjects, including higher education enrollment growth, Medicaid transformation, ADM growth in K-12 schools, and reserves for teacher and law enforcement salaries.