‘This budget is a mixed bag:' Breaking down what’s in the House budget for education
Republican House leaders have released their initial budget proposal. Senate leadership is expected to release its budget proposal in May, and the budget process will likely continue through the summer before North Carolinians see a final state budget.
But for now, the House proposal serves as a window into Republicans’ education priorities, both in terms of state funding as well as policy measures that may get wrapped into the final budget bill.
The North Carolina Association of Educators gave the budget proposal mixed reviews in a statement released today.
“We believe every child, regardless of their race, income, or zip code deserves the best education and an opportunity to thrive. By this standard, this budget is a mixed bag,” said NCAE President Tamika Walker Kelly.
Here are some of the top education issues in the budget:
House speaker Tim Moore praised his chamber’s proposal for a more than 10% average raise for public school teachers over the two-year budget.
“That is huge. I don't know that we've ever given this large of a raise before,” Moore said in a press conference Wednesday.
That 10% estimate breaks down to about a 5% raise each year, and it does include what teachers were already entitled to receive through annual step raises for experience.
Under this budget proposal, next year’s state base pay for beginning teachers would go up from $37,000 to $38,500 dollars. That’s the base pay for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree, before adding in local supplements paid for by county taxes and additional pay for teachers who have national board certification or hold a master’s degree.
The House budget also proposes putting $170 million into a fund that supports local supplements for teacher salaries in less wealthy counties, an increase of $70 million dollars since the fund was created in the last biennial budget.
Here’s what the House’s base teacher salary schedule would look like next to the current salary schedule:
Restore master’s payThe House is proposing to restore master’s degree pay for all teachers and other licensed education professionals, such as social workers. The 10% annual pay bump is currently available only to those who began their master’s degree program before 2013, when the General Assembly repealed the policy.
Paid parental leave
The House budget would offer paid parental leave for school employees who’ve been employed for at least a year. An employee who gives birth to a child would be able to take 8 weeks of paid leave. Other employees who become a parent through birth, adoption or foster care would be able to take 4 weeks of paid leave.
NCAE President Walker Kelly praised the master’s pay and parental leave measures in a full statement:
We need a budget that put our public school student needs at the center. If we want North Carolina to thrive, then our final budget should reflect that priority. This budget proposal has a ways to go. #nced https://t.co/qHG8qP0slC— Tamika W. Kelly (@twkelly_EDU) March 30, 2023
School Employee Salaries
The House budget proposes a 4.25% raise for all school support staff. House leaders say bus drivers would receive an average 9.5% raise in state pay, to help address a widespread shortage of drivers. The bus driver raise would be paid through a fund administered by the Department of Public Instruction and distributed to school districts on an equitable basis.
4th and 5th grade class sizes
The House budget would cap all 4th and 5th grade class sizes at 24 students.
“The transition from third grade to fourth grade is very difficult for many of our students,” Rep. Jeffrey Elmore said in a press conference. “Because up to third grade, we have class size restrictions. So the student may be in a classroom of 14-15 children, but then they get to a fourth grade classroom where there can be as many as 30-32 kids.”
Elmore said capping the class size could help support math instruction, and the state would fund more teaching assistants to help with the transition.
Private school vouchers
School choice advocacy group Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina is praising the House budget for offering private school vouchers to students who qualify by income standards, but are ineligible because they already attend a private school.
“We've seen some good things in the house budget that will expand that,” said PEFNC vice president Brian Jodice.
The private school vouchers known as Opportunity Scholarships are currently available to students who either previously attended a public school, or private school students who apply for the first time in kindergarten through 2nd grade.
The House proposal would expand eligibility to all elementary and middle school students who meet income eligibility requirements, even if they have already been attending a private school without state assistance. The House budget would also increase funding for Opportunity Scholarships by about $56 million to $262 million in 2025 in order to pay for the expanded eligibility.
Posting class materials for parents to review
The House bill would mandate school districts and charter schools to document all course materials used in lesson plans the prior year, including textbooks, required and optional books, videos, digital content, and websites. Schools would be required to make this information available online and to create a process for anyone to review course materials that are not online.
School boards and the state board of education would also be required to form “media advisory committees” to respond to challenges against instructional materials.
Politically appointed commission to set the standard course of study
The budget would create a commission with 16 seats appointed by the General Assembly to set content standards for the standard course of study in public schools. In the past, standard setting has been conducted by committees of educators organized by the Department of Public Instruction. The standards would continue to require approval by the state board of education.
NCAE President Tamika Walker Kelly said in a statement that this “could take the power to shape our children’s education out of the hands of professional educators and give it to political appointees.”
NC Teaching Fellows
The NC Teaching Fellows is a state-funded public service loan forgiveness program for college students who are seeking a degree in education and intend to teach in North Carolina public schools.
The House proposal would expand eligibility for the program to students who are seeking an education degree in any subject area. For the past 5 years, the program has been available only to students seeking to teach in the fields of STEM, agriculture, or special education. The House bill would also expand the program to all UNC System universities and reduce the number of years a graduate of the program would need to teach to repay their loan.