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Governor’s budget props up beginning teachers, emphasizes ‘flexibility’

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Gov. Pat McCrory unveils his recommended 2015-17 state budget

Governor Pat McCrory unveiled his recommended $21.5 billion budget Thursday, which continues his promise to boost beginning teacher salaries up to a minimum $35,000 a year but does not provide significant increases for veteran teachers and makes yet another cut to the state’s university system.

“We’re changing the basic paradigm of how we evaluate and distribute our limited tax dollars,” McCrory told reporters Thursday. “The new paradigm is directing our monies toward where we’re having the highest attrition, where the greatest need is and based upon the market performance…we’re really speaking in a different paradigm that’s more market-oriented than civil service oriented.”

More than half of McCrory’s 2015-17 recommended state budget is devoted to education. An additional $200+ million is spent on fully funding student enrollment growth in K-12 education over the next two years, and around $84,000 is tagged for increasing beginning teacher salaries from $33,000 (which the General Assembly approved last year) to $35,000 beginning this fall.

While veteran teachers did not receive significant pay bumps in spite of the fact that many say they were cheated out of raises during last year’s much touted teacher pay raise, McCrory’s new budget director, Lee Roberts, emphasized that eligible teachers would still move along the newly-enacted state salary schedule if McCrory’s budget passes.

The old salary schedule for teachers had previously been frozen, Roberts said. The state’s new system provides teachers with pay bumps every five years.

McCrory’s budget hits the University of North Carolina system with a 2 percent funding decrease, also known as “allowing flexibility to achieve efficiencies.”

That cut comes on top of years of budget cuts to the state’s strapped universities. In addition, universities would also be capped at $1 million with regard to how many state dollars they can spend toward private fundraising efforts.

McCrory told reporters that he’s consulted with UNC leaders.

“We’ve talked to the university leaders about this and what they like is the flexibility we’re giving them, said McCrory. “Instead of the politicians out of Raleigh telling them how to find savings, we’re giving them the flexibility to do that.”

The word flexibility was a commonly used one in today’s budget reveal.

“In the past, they’ve [UNC] gotten the directive of what to reduce or increase out of Raleigh. Those days are ending. We want to give that flexibility to our universities and our community colleges and, by the way, our superintendents,” McCrory said.

Other education-related takeaways from the Governor’s budget:

  • One-time “hold harmless” bonuses. Provides $1,000 salary bonuses to teachers and school-based administrators who end up earning less than before with the new teacher salary schedule.
  • Maintain teacher assistants. Last year McCrory emphasized preserving funds to pay for teacher assistants, and it appears that’s the case for this year too. $64 million is set aside in both years of his budget to save approximately 2,000 TAs.
  • Fully fund enrollment growth. $200,000,000+ is set aside to hire 1,400+ teacher positions in order to accommodate an increased number of students enrolling in North Carolina’s public schools.
  • Master’s degree pay. Science, technology, engingeering and math (STEM) teachers and those teaching students with special needs who have advanced degrees in those fields would see higher pay.
  • Pay-for-performance. Puts a total of $15 million into the NC Education Endowment Fund over two years to implement teacher pay-for-performance plans that directly relate to increasing student outcomes. This seems more focused on rewarding teachers on the basis of students’ test scores rather than rewarding other differentiated pay plans.
  • Textbooks. Textbook funding is well known for being gutted by lawmakers over the past several years, and in many areas students are working with textbooks that are at least seven or eight years old. McCrory proposes putting $35 million back into textbooks but has merged that line item with Instructional Supplies and Equipment — and adds language for “local flexibility,” which means districts could potentially end up spending more on equipment than on textbooks.
  • Cut to Department of Public Instruction. McCrory proposes cutting DPI by $4 million each year of the two year budget, or by 10 percent. This comes on top of last year’s sizable 10 percent reduction handed down by lawmakers, which resulted in the loss of more than 50 jobs.
  • Community college tuition increase. Tuition at community colleges goes up from $72 per credit hour to $76 per credit hour at the state’s community colleges in McCrory’s budget.
  • Eastern Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine. McCrory devotes $8 million to saving the embattled medical school.

Ultimately, it’s up to members of the General Assembly to craft and pass a state budget, which McCrory can then approve or veto.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for the House and Senate to unveil their budget proposals. Click here to read McCrory’s full budget.

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