At the Education Appropriations Subcommittee meeting today, the North Carolina House unveiled the education section of their budget bill. While the unfortunate convention of loading the budget with policy changes in the special provisions section is nothing new, the education-related provisions of the House’s budget proposal go exceptionally far.
Most notably, a bill creating a voucher program (HB 944) that would divert $100 million from public to private schools over the next three years is included in its entirety in the House budget’s 97 pages worth of public education special provisions. The controversial and unpopular voucher scheme faced bipartisan opposition when it was narrowly approved by the House Education Committee on May 27th. If this provision remains part of the budget, vouchers could become law in North Carolina without ever being subjected to a standalone vote on the floor of either the House or the Senate.
Here is a sampling of the many education policy changes embedded in the omnibus budget bill:
Students with Disabilities and Limited English Proficient students would be ineligible for North Carolina Pre-Kindergarten: In spite of the fact that students with disabilities and limited English proficient students benefit most from early educational intervention, both are incomprehensibly removed from the eligibility definition in the Health and Human Services portion of the budget special provisions. The income eligibility standard that families must meet to participate is also reduced from 75% of the State Median Income (equivalent to about $42,819 for a family of three) to 130% of the federal poverty level ($24,817 for a family of three).
Larger classes, especially in the early grades: Limits on class sizes in grades K-3 are removed, as are overall teaching load limits for teachers in grades 7-12.
No salary increases for teachers with masters degrees: In another hit to North Carolina’s already underpaid teaching force (currently ranked 46th in the nation in teacher compensation and falling fast), new teachers possessing masters degrees would no longer receive any salary supplement. Currently new teachers receive a supplement of a little over $3,000 if they have a masters, accounting for about a 10% bump in pay.
Older school buses: The House special provisions replace the current law stipulating that school buses must be replaced every 200,000 miles or 20 years with a provision that buses won’t be eligible for replacement until they reach 250,000 miles. Buses operated for less than 150,000 miles are ineligible for replacement regardless of how old they are, and buses less than 15 years old could not be replaced until they reach 300,000 miles.