RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Public education leaders and legislative Democrats held events Monday across North Carolina criticizing Republicans for their slow progress negotiating a state budget, which school administrators said has made it difficult to fill staffing vacancies.

As students prepare to return to the classroom this month, House and Senate Republicans are debating dozens of outstanding spending and policy issues within a two-year spending plan that was supposed to take effect July 1. It will include pay raises for teachers, legislative leaders have assured, but they have not disclosed the amount.

The absence of a new budget creates major obstacles for hiring and retention of key staff, including bus drivers, teachers and classroom aides, said Chris Heagarty, vice chair of the Wake County Board of Education and a former Democratic state legislator.

North Carolina school districts were already struggling to attract new teachers and keep current ones amid a nationwide teacher shortage, Heagarty said Monday at the state Legislative Building. Now, their inability to promise prospective hires a competitive salary is driving away talent and making the local shortage even worse, he explained.

“In today’s labor market, people aren’t going to wait around and see what they might be paid,” he said.

Senate leader Phil Berger, a Rockingham County Republican, told reporters Monday that a budget vote would likely happen the second week of September. Republicans hold a narrow veto-proof supermajority in both chambers.

“The folks that are going to get those raises will get those raises,” Berger said. “It’s just that they might be delayed a little bit.”

Also Monday, the Rev. William Barber II, a prominent civil rights leader from Goldsboro, gathered fellow clergy leaders at the Legislative Building to demand Republicans “cease and desist from culture wars” and focus on providing residents a living wage.