Despite increases, N.C. public education funding still lags, advocates say

Protesters blasted the N.C. General Assembly’s K-12 budget Monday.

Despite modest increases in teacher pay and classroom funding bundled in the General Assembly’s now-approved budget, North Carolina public education spending still lags far behind pre-recession levels, advocates at the state’s legislative building argued Monday.

“Even though our economy continues to recover, our public schools are facing a permanent recession caused by Republican lawmakers who would rather give tax cuts to millionaires and big corporations instead of investing in public education,” Logan Smith, communications director for liberal-leaning Progress NC Action, said.

The advocacy organization touted new teacher pay numbers that show, when adjusted for inflation, pay at nearly every experience level lags pay in 2008, before a Wall Street collapse brought on a massive economic slowdown.

Additionally, the group says, North Carolina spending, when adjusted for inflation, is $500 less per student today than it was in 2008. And state spending on textbooks, which received a non-recurring, $11.2 million bump in the final legislative budget, remains 40% less per student than 2008.

Protesters said they planned to seek a meeting with N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore after their press conference to discuss the budget Monday. Later, Smith said Moore was not available when protesters visited, although they spoke briefly with some of the House speaker’s aides.

“Clearly, he did not talk to any actual educators before writing this budget,” added Smith.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper announced that he would veto the state legislature’s $23 billion spending package Monday, although the Republican-dominated legislature likely has enough votes to override Cooper’s veto.

Meanwhile, veteran teachers blasted lawmakers’ approved pay raises in recent years, which as of the most recent national rankings, lifted the state’s average educator pay ranking from 41st nationally to 35th.

Those numbers, however, did not include the pay raises approved by lawmakers this month, although teachers and other K-12 advocates say the legislature’s pay hikes won’t go far enough.

They say experienced educators were left behind when lawmakers developed their salary scale. Amy Daaleman, a 25-year music teacher in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, said this year’s average 3.3% raise for teachers comes out to about another $30 per month for her.

That’s not nearly enough to cover expected increases in health care premiums for teachers like Daaleman.

“I feel disrespected that my value to the state to stay and teach another year as an educator is only worth $30 a month,” said Daaleman. “What is the logic in staying in a profession that has more and more work only to lose money?”

Becky Campbell, a 22-year language arts teacher in Chapel Hill, agreed, pointing out last year’s much-touted GOP raises amounted to a $11.70 monthly increase in take-home pay for her.

“I want the public to understand what a sham this support for public education is,” said Campbell.

Teacher pay and textbook funding wasn’t the only gripe leveled at GOP state lawmakers Monday. Teachers and advocates also shredded lawmakers over the state’s looming class-size funding issue, teacher assistant funding and a state budget provision that eliminates retirement health benefits for new teachers beginning in 2021.

“Taking away retirement benefits would be horrible for teacher recruitment,” said Smith. “And it makes it even harder than it already is to retain the educators your children deserve.”

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