Stoops: An overview of the NC House K-12 education budget

Although I agree that other parts of the House budget are problematic, their K-12 education budget includes additional funding for a number of promising initiatives and research-based programs.

Clearly, the Republican leadership recognizes that boosting student performance requires targeted investments in public school personnel.  Moreover, I am pleased that the House chose to increase Opportunity Scholarship funding, which was one of the few shortcomings of the governor’s otherwise solid education budget.  Then again, the governor and his budget staff did not have the benefit of working with a revenue surplus.

CommenTerry by Dr. Terry Stoops

by Dr. Terry Stoops

Similar to governor’s plan, the single largest K-12 increase is the $100 million allocation to fund school enrollment growth in FY 2015-16 and over $207 million for enrollment increases in FY 2016-17.  Much of this would be used to pay for hundreds of new teaching positions.

In addition, all education personnel, with the exception of first-year teachers, would receive a 2 percent across-the-board raise.  The base salary for starting teachers would increase from $33,000 to $35,000 per year, a 6 percent increase.  Current teachers would advance one step on the teacher salary schedule.  Legislators also add a sixth tier to the statewide teacher salary schedule for educators paid as psychologists.

Budget writers incorporate a number of faculty and staff development programs.  Their plan includes a $4 million biennial appropriation for regional leadership academies, $1.2 million for career and technical education teacher bonuses, $126,500 for Advanced Placement summer professional development institutes, $8.2 million in bonuses for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate teachers, $3.6 million for school safety and instructional support personnel, and $200,000 for a teacher education redesign pilot program.  Over $10 million would be used for the NC Elevating Educators Act of 2015, an initiative that would create and fund advanced teaching roles for K‑12 classroom teachers.

And just when you thought that lawmakers could not pour any additional money into faculty and staff development, they add $4.8 million in recurring grants for training efforts coordinated by Regional Education Service Alliances, $2.4 million for Visiting International Faculty (VIF), and $300,000 for the Distinguished Leadership in Practice development program for high-performing principals.

Hey, lookie here, the UNC budget has $3 million for North Carolina New Teacher Support, $3.2 million for teacher recruitment and retention, $700,000 for an evaluation of teacher recruitment and retention programs, and $10 million for principal preparation.

Lawmakers also fund a number of alternative instructional programs.  They make huge investments in textbooks/digital resources/software, school connectivity, and digital learning, adding nearly $140 million in state funding to the effort.  Additionally, they infuse nearly $6.4 million in additional funding for Cooperative and Innovative High Schools.  Four million dollars would be granted to the North Carolina New Schools Project for a competency education pilot program.  A $2 million grant would be awarded to Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina for a charter school development project, a grant unlikely to make the cut during budget negotiations.

Interestingly, relatively few expansion items would benefit students directly.  The budget calls on the NC Department of Public Instruction to develop and implement a pilot program for an “integrated community-based adapted sports program for students with disabilities in grades K-12.”  A $200,000 grant to Beginnings for Children would expand services for children who are deaf or hard of hearing.  In addition to a $200,000 grant to fund the Science Olympiad, a $205,000 grant would be awarded for a residential science, mathematics, engineering, and technology (STEM) program for students who attend public high schools in Northampton County.  Most importantly, the budget would add $6.8 million to the Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides private school vouchers to low-income children as well as opportunities for liberal groups to make silly claims.

In fact, none of these proposals satisfy the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) and other public school advocacy groups.  Budgets proposed by Republicans trigger responses from the Left that are hilariously predictable.  For example, NCAE’s main concern is ensuring that the state place greater emphasis on flawed rankings of per pupil expenditures and average teacher pay (See Quote of the Week below).  These rankings, which are published by their bosses at the National Education Association, fail to account for important differences among states, including cost of living, benefits, and variations in teacher experience.

While House members may still offer amendments to the plan, I suspect that major education provisions will remain intact.  Soon the question will be whether the Senate follows their lead.

Terry Stoops is the director of Education Studies at the John Locke Foundation.

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