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Three Big Changes In Education Policy That Made The Budget Deal

Several hands of different colors raised.
John LeMasney
Creative commons
The state budget deal includes several education policy changes, including the first education savings accounts.

Education spending is far and away the lion's share of the state budget. This budget also includes some important changes to policy that will impact the state's teachers, students and schools. 


The budget includes a $450,000 set-aside for North Carolina's first education savings accounts. Here's how they would work: Parents would get $9,000 a year deposited into their education savings account. That's about how much the state spends per student in the public K-12 system. Parents could use the money in the account for public or private school tuition, transportation to school, educational materials and therapies. They get a debit card linked to the account, and have to file an expense report each quarter.

Education savings accounts are being promoted by conservative interest groups like ALEC, the Koch brothers, and Jeb Bush’s organization Excellence in Education in Action. The first accounts were created in Arizona in 2011, and have since spread to Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee and Nevada. In Nevada all students are eligible for education savings accounts. Under the proposed North Carolina plan, the accounts would only be for students with disabilities.  This is also how the state's voucher system started out too. Now that program is scheduled to grow to more than $130 million by 2021, and is available to to students with disabilities and low-income students.


North Carolina is second-to-last in the nation in average principal pay. Right now the state pays principals based on  two things: how big is the principal's school, and how many years of experience do they have? But the budget deal would change that. Instead, pay would be based on the size of the school and how much growth students make on state tests. On top of that, principals could get bonuses if their kids make really high growth, especially if they're in a historically low-performing school.

Overall it would significantly increase principal pay, bumping average pay from $68,000 to $74,000. The big increase is in the base pay. Under the proposed schedule, principals would start out at about $62,000 a year if they’re at a small school. Right now it take many principals 15 years to get to that salary. Principals at the biggest schools with the highest growth would make $89,000, plus thousands of dollars in bonuses.

Another factor in principal pay are local supplements. Many larger, urban school districts provide local salary supplements to their principals.


The budget outlines how lawmakers want the state to hold schools accountable under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced No Child Left Behind. The law requires states to create grading formulas for schools that let parents and the federal government know how well schools are serving students. The new federal guidelines require states to include information about how well students perform on state tests, but they also allow schools to include information about "school quality." That could include indicators like school safety data, participation rates in sports or the arts, and student and parent surveys. But under the federal accountability plan in the state budget, school quality would only be measured by growth on state tests, and not on any of the newly available indicators.

Jess is WUNC's Fletcher Fellow for Education Policy Reporting. Her reporting focuses on how decisions made at the North Carolina General Assembly affect the state's students, families, teachers and communities.
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