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

In an early response to the release of the Senate education budget, the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) posted a photo of an empty toilet paper roll on their Facebook page.  The tagline was “First it was textbooks and TP [toilet paper], now it’s TAs [teacher assistants].”

[Insert inappropriate toilet humor or bathroom pun here.]

Indeed, you will hear a lot about teacher assistants this week.

CommenTerry by Dr. Terry Stoops

by Dr. Terry Stoops

Senate budget writers have never been fond of supporting positions that research suggests have no discernable effect on student achievement.  This includes teacher assistants, central office administration, and NC Department of Public Instruction (DPI) staff. So, it is no surprise that Senate budget writers proposed a budgetary tradeoff — reducing the number of teacher assistants and increasing the number of classroom teachers in the early grades.  The net result would be a loss of thousands of state-funded TA positions and an increase of 6,700 in classroom teacher positions over the next two years.  More importantly, it would reduce average class sizes in kindergarten through third-grade to some of the lowest levels in the nation by 2017.

The teacher assistant issue will be a major sticking point between the House and Senate.  (For a refresher on the House budget, go here.)  In the past, House leadership has been unwilling to agree to large cuts to teacher assistant positions proposed by the Senate budget writers.  I suspect that the House will argue that the two-year class size reduction proposal is too aggressive. School districts already must hire hundreds of additional teachers over the next two years to address turnover and student enrollment growth.  Reducing class sizes would require even more intensive teacher recruitment and retention efforts.  Additionally, in an effort to fill multiple vacancies quickly, there is a risk of compromising quality for quantity.

The research is on the Senate’s side, but there are political considerations that may compel them to rethink their teacher assistant proposal.  For the Senate plan to be politically viable, they have to persuade North Carolinians, not to mention House colleagues, that the personnel trade-off would benefit school children.  Public school advocacy groups and the mainstream media will likely focus on the reduction in teacher assistant positions and not the enormous increases in classroom teacher positions and pay.  Overcoming that noise is no easy task.

Speaking of noise, liberals will complain that most classroom teachers would receive only a 4 percent, on average, increase in their base pay. Clearly, the biggest winners would be early career teachers.  Those new to the profession would enjoy a $2,000 increase to their base salary. Teachers with five to nine years of experience would receive a $1,750 bump, while the next band or tier on the salary schedule would receive a $1,250 increase in base pay.  The Senate would award $1,000 bonuses to teachers with over 25 years of experience.

The above pay increases assume that the teacher does not advance to the next tier on the six-band, experience-based salary schedule.  The Senate plan would move all teachers up one step.  Those who cross into a new band would receive even higher raises.    For example, a teacher progressing from their 14th to their 15th year of teaching would receive a $4,250 increase in base pay under the Senate plan.

Other big-ticket items include $300 million to fully fund enrollment growth and another $58 million for textbooks and digital resources.  Private school scholarships for low-income children would get a $13.6 million boost over two years.  Unfortunately, Senate budget writers only increased funding for special needs scholarships by $500,000 over the biennium.

Overall, the Senate plan is a good one.  Similar to the House, the Senate focuses their public schools budget on investments in human resources.  But their foci are different.  Whereas the House aims to improve professional development by funding small projects and pass-through grants to third parties, the Senate directs funding to increase the number and compensation of classroom teacher positions.  Although correct in their budgeting philosophy, House and Senate budget writers know that there are advantages and disadvantages to their respective approaches.  While the final budget will likely incorporate elements of both, I believe that the Senate plan will remain largely intact.

By the way, there is no line item for toilet paper in the state education budget.  Chapter 115C-522 of the NC General Statutes requires local school boards to purchase school building supplies.  But I suppose that is a minor detail for the NCAE, an organization whose reputation is, well, down the toilet.

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