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Teachers group pushes for DHHS salary investigation

The North Carolina Association of Educators called for an investigation Tuesday into raises granted Gov. Pat McCrory’s former campaign aides after the governor called for a freeze on wage hikes.

It’s the legislature’s job to examine “the glaring scandal over taxpayer-funded pay raises,’ said NCAE President Rodney Ellis at a news conference Tuesday morning outside the Legislative Building.

Public attention has focused on two 24-year-old McCrory campaign staffers, Ricky Diaz and Matt McKillip, who went on to work at the state Department of Heath and Human Services for salaries of $85,000 and $87,500.

McCrory has used cost overruns in Medicaid to explain why teachers did not get raises this year, Ellis said, yet the same agency that runs Medicaid is “granting huge raises for the politically connected.”

Groups fight over a nonexistent lawsuit

The N.C. Association of Educators is threatening to sue over the voucher provisions in the state budget.

The budget includes $10 million to spend next year to pay private school tuition beginning in the 2014-15 school year for children from families that meet income limits.

There's no voucher program yet, and no lawsuit. But that' hasn't stopped the cross-talk between NCAE and voucher proponent Parents for Educational Freedom that's come in the form of letters to legislators.

NCAE President Rodney Ellis sent legislators a letter Monday saying the NCAE would "immediately pursue legal challenges" against "the constitutionality of taxpayer dollars to be used for private and for-profit schools."

Darrell Allision, president of Parents for Educational Freedom, responded with his own letter to legislators dated Wednesday calling the lawsuit threat "misguided at best."

Morning Memo: GOP moves to limit early voting as budget debate begins

REPUBLICANS MOVE TO CURTAIL EARLY VOTING: Republicans are moving in the final days of the legislative session to cut early voting by a week, limit Sunday voting and curtail some voter registration efforts in a sweeping bill that is expected to debut Tuesday. The measure also may advance the state's presidential primary to a week after South Carolina's first-in-the-South contest. The last-minute election measures will appear in a Senate bill requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls. (Check Dome for more on the bill later today.)

EDUCATION FOCUS OF BUDGET DEBATE: The N.C. Association of Educators is threatening to sue over the tenure provisions in the state budget. State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said for the first time in her 30-year career, she fears for the future of public education. “I am truly worried about the ongoing starvation of our public schools,” she said. “I see other states making a commitment to public education. In our state I see in this budget we’re cutting teachers, we’re cutting teacher assistants, we’re cutting instructional support.”

With education as the focus, the House and Senate will take budget votes Tuesday and Wednesday as they race toward the end of session.

***More on the state budget and other North Carolina political news below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Politicians, advocates react strongly to GOP budget plan

The Republican-crafted $20.6 billion state budget is eliciting strong reactions from across the North Carolina political spectrum. Much of it focuses on the education funding changes. One person yet to respond: Gov. Pat McCrory. But in the meantime, check out a roundup of statements below.

--Senate Democratic Leader Martin Nesbitt: “With this budget and last week’s tax bill, we can clearly see the Republican agenda: hoarding power in Raleigh and cutting vital services to the middle class in order to pay for massive handouts to the wealthiest 1% and out-of-state corporations. This is ‘big-government’ conservatism that prioritizes power over people and special interests and the super-wealthy over middle class families."

Board of Ed lobbyist moves to NCAE

The N.C. Association of Educators has hired Ann McColl to be its first in-house lawyer.

In addition to legal work, she'll work on policy and lobbying.

McColl moves to NCAE from her job as lobbyist for the State Board of Education, where she's been for about two years.

"Ann brings a wealth of experience, talent, and commitment to our Association's work," said NCAE President Rodney Ellis. "Whether the issue is employment, working conditions, or education reform, Ann believes that educators deserve a strong voice. NCAE is stronger with Ann on our team."

Teachers group endorses GOP House members

The N.C. Association of Educators, a group long associated with Democrats, announced endorsements Wednesday of three Republican House members over their Democratic challengers. 

Reps. Bryan Holloway of Stokes, Linda Johnson of Cabarrus, and Hugh Blackwell of Burke County won NCAE's nod in what the group said is its first round of legislative endorsements. The other 13 endorsements announced Wednesday all went to Democrats.

Holloway and Blackwell are House education budget writers. Johnson is a co-chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee.

The House pushed money toward the K-12 budget this year, though not all made it into the final budget.

"These three legislative leaders were courageous, strong and vocal for public school educators and students this past short session, and our educators are going to be strong and vocal in working for their re-election this November," NCAE President Rodney Ellis said in a statement.

NCAE plans school by school jobs fight

The state's teacher lobby is planning to work district by district to keep state-mandated education cuts from increasing class size, a move which would result in the loss of teacher jobs.

The budget adopted by the House and Senate on Wednesday prohibits any changes to class size in grades K-3. It orders local school officials across the state to cut a total of $225 million. School officials are urged by the budget to move money around and use federal stimulus dollars to avoid harming classroom instruction.

The N.C. Association of Educators told members in an e-mail message that it believes no teacher jobs should be cut. A second message offered the organization's help to ensure jobs are preserved. That help could be through advice, or political pressure.

NCAE Vice President Rodney Ellis spoke to local leaders over the last two days and he is confidant that federal reporting guidelines, State Board rulemaking and NCAE's efforts to assist locals will preserve classroom resources for students.

"Nothing is more important to our success at the local level than getting members engaged in school board decisions and county commission budgets," Ellis said. "We have a budget that helps us, a federal government that is looking closely at local spending, but we must have a strong local membership willing to speak up."

Some school administrators have said they are reluctant to hire teachers based on federal dollars that aren't yet in hand.

NCAE says there are plenty of funds that have already been delivered and taht they've already been able to help school districts find cuts without sacrificing jobs.

Update: Post includes fuller description of NCAE's position.

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