The General Assembly’s Conference Committee budget proposal (special provisions can be found here; changes to funding can be found here) contains a number of education proposals that are worth highlighting:
- Opportunity Scholarship voucher program: The conference proposal combines the changes that were included in both the House and Senate versions of the budget. That is, the proposal includes the House policy of expanding the number of new scholarships that can be awarded to students in grades K-1, thereby increasing the number of scholarships that will be awarded to students who would have gone to a private school even if they had not received a voucher. The conference proposal also incorporates the Senate plan to increase voucher funding to $145 million per year, parking unused funds in a reserve fund. Combined, these proposals are likely to cost the State approximately $175 million over the next five years.
- Sets up crippling class size restrictions for the FY 17-18: The General Assembly provides school districts with teachers in grades K-3 according to set student-to-teacher allotment ratios. For example, school districts receive one teacher for every 18 students in kindergarten. Historically, a school district’s average class sizes across the district have been allowed to exceed the allotted ratio by 3 students. This allows LEAs to use State funding for supplemental teachers such as art, music, and gym teachers. Under the 2016 budget, LEAs would lose this flexibility beginning in FY 17-18. The move will have a devastating effect on districts across the state, particularly low-wealth districts with limited capacity to hire additional teachers from local revenues.
- Fails to restore funding to prior levels: The 2016 budget fails to restore several items to pre-recession levels. Compared to FY 08-09, North Carolina’s schools will have approximately 3,700 fewer State-funded teachers (4,800, if you account for student growth), $143 million less in teacher assistant funding, $41 million less in instructional supplies, $29 million less for textbooks, $39 million less for noninstructional support (janitors, clerical, substitutes, etc.), and $12 million less for professional development.