Commentary

House education budget falls short of needs, misleads on pay increases

It’s a story that North Carolinians have heard all too often this past decade. Despite a steadily growing economy, the General Assembly – in this case, the House – has once again failed to meaningfully address budget shortfalls in our public schools. The only new wrinkle presented by this week’s passage of the 2019 House education budget is a bizarre new attempt to mislead the public on educator pay increases.

First, let’s talk about the headline numbers. House leaders have increased the budget for public schools by 3.8 percent in FY 19-20 and 8.2 percent in FY 20-21 above base levels. This compares to proposed annual increases of 5.9 percent and 8.7, respectively, in the Governor’s budget. The House budget levels would leave total per-student state funding 2 percent below pre-Recession levels on an inflation-adjusted basis.

Very little of the additional House funding will expand resources for our public schools. As has been common over the past five years, most of the additional new funding is directed towards salary and benefit increases for teachers, instructional support personnel, assistant principals, and principals. These pay increases should be thought of as simply covering the cost of inflation, or as recoupment for the four years this decade when salaries were frozen. To date, the past five years of salary increases haven’t translated to notably improved retention, nor have they reversed the trend of plummeting enrollments in our schools of education.

Similarly, the budget’s technical adjustments provide additional funding to account for inflation and changes in student enrollment (until 2014, such changes weren’t even considered as expansion funding).

That leaves just $42 million in FY 19-20 and $62 million in FY 20-21 that will actually be distributed to school districts via the State Public School Fund to expand services for students. That represents a 0.4% increase in school resources in FY 19-20, and a 0.6% increase in FY 20-21.

Of the 24 biggest allotments in FY 08-09, this House budget would leave 18 below their pre-Recession levels when adjusted for inflation and student growth.

The primary initiatives receiving increased funding under the House budget are related to school safety. The proposal expands grant programs for school mental health support personnel, school resource officers in elementary and middle schools, safety equipment, training, and crisis services.

While funding for additional mental health support personnel is vital, the additional funding under the House budget provides less than 5 percent of what it would take for North Carolina to meet national standard staffing levels for student support staff.

Additionally, the funding for school resource officers is likely not money well spent. A 2018 study looking at North Carolina data found that middle school resource officers do not improve school safety.

On the subject of teacher pay, House leaders have done their best to mislead the public. Initially, they claimed they were providing teachers with a 4.8 percent increase in FY 19-20. They subsequently backed that down to 4.6 percent. However, they failed to mention that – in an unprecedented move – their new teacher salary schedule would not go into effect until January 1, 2020. As a result, the actual average pay increase for teachers in FY 19-20 would be 3.0 percent, compared to 4.6 percent under the Governor’s plan.

House budget writers have played a similar trick in describing pay increases for principals and assistant principals. Their average pay increases under the House plan would be closer to 5.0 percent and 3.0 percent, respectively; well below the 10.0 percent and 4.6 percent increases touted by House leaders.

Noncertified employees such as bus drivers and janitorial staff would be left behind under the House proposal. They would only receive the higher of $250 or a 0.5 percent raise in FY 19-20.

On the plus side, the House budget would fully restore master’s pay, allowing master’s teachers who began their studies after August 1, 2013 to qualify for a 10 percent salary increment.

Finally, the House budget proposal includes several policy changes, many of which would be backwards steps for our public schools.

  • Section 7.16 – Ensure Sufficient Staffing for Public Schools: Prohibits teachers from using personal leave unless the availability of a substitute teacher has been confirmed for that day. This move is seen as an effort to outlaw future teacher protests like the May 1 education rally. But it would also make it prohibitively difficult for teachers to take personal leave on normal days due to persistent shortages in substitute teacher availability.
  • Section 7.22 – Modernize Selection of Instructional Materials: Places a substantial unfunded mandate on school districts, which would be required to establish new processes to evaluate, select, and adopt instructional materials. The provision would also allow any member of the public to challenge a district’s instructional materials, automatically triggering investigations and hearings. These changes will allow members of the religious right to tie up limited district resources on any topic deemed remotely controversial.
  • Sections 8A.7 and 8A.8 – Opportunity Scholarships: These provisions eliminate the last vestiges of accountability for the Opportunity Scholarship voucher program – already the nation’s least accountable voucher program – by eliminating the collection of student test data in schools accepting more than 25 voucher students and eliminating a requirement for the state to evaluate the performance of voucher students. Furthermore, eligibility would be extended to certain students already enrolled in private schools, draining state funds by providing these students with up to $4,200 per year to do something they were already doing without a state subsidy.

4 Comments


  1. Sarah W Sisson

    May 4, 2019 at 4:52 pm

    Teachers deserve to be paid well. It is a shame that teachers spend their own money on needed supplies, donate their extra time with duties and planning, teach without a bathroom break ( which ruins their health), put up with administrators that often mistreat them and the list goes on and on. The average person has no clue about what a teacher does and is expected to do.

  2. Eileen Prince

    May 6, 2019 at 7:41 am

    Every two years the NC General Assembly constructs its two-year budget for the state, addressing a wide range of priorities. Usually these are programmatic in nature, but occasionally there are efforts that are more personal and spiteful in nature, unseemly for an official state budget process but present nonetheless. It is happening again this spring, and I hope many will raise their voices in dissent.

    I have worked at the NC Department of Public Instruction (DPI) for many years, and during these past two years of supposed economic advancement, my agency has endured massive cuts (8% in 2017; 13% in 2018) to our infrastructure of support to public schools throughout the state. We have lost dozens of positions and valued colleagues as a result, including technology support and consultants who worked throughout the state in our ‘district and school transformation’ efforts that had proven to be very helpful in our smallest and most economically challenged counties. In their place, we now have various unproven schemes, such as tens of millions of dollars annually in private school vouchers, a specious one-school Innovative School District (ISD), and an uncapping and rapid expansion of charter schools that now simply serve as ‘private schools lite.’ Those of us who were here at DPI since before 2017 and continue to serve the state, do so with a disheartening morale about the direction of both our agency and public education; this is one of the few accurate reflections of the $1 million taxpayer-funded audit of DPI conducted in early 2018.

    Another major factor in this low morale has been the both hostile and detached presence of our recently-elected Superintendent of Public Instruction. It is hard to imagine someone campaigning for an elected position and then spending the entire first year on a ‘listening tour’, essentially admitting he didn’t know what he was doing, but that is what happened. All the while, he either actively connived with or passively allowed the General Assembly to institute these draconian cuts and changes to the very agency he was supposed to administer. We have witnessed him spar with the State Board of Education month after month, clamoring for power while refusing to answer the simplest of questions or collaborate to save my agency colleagues from the budgetary axe. We have seen him launch his own fancy personal website, claiming vision and growth for public education, while ignoring and failing to recognize our numerous divisions, offices and employees that actually support public schools every day. We witness the announcements and photo shoots, all with his name and grinning picture but none of ours. During the past two and a half years, he has managed to meet with us as an agency a total of one time, and there have been zero recognitions of the scores of employees who have achieved milestones in service to the state.

    The State Board of Education (SBE), appointed by Republican and Democratic governors through the years to bipartisanly steer public education in the state, has also seen its resources raided, with positions and individuals targeted for elimination. In a hasty zeal in early 2017 to consolidate power under this new malleable superintendent, and with his support, the NC General Assembly attempted to eliminate the positions of Executive Director and Assistant Director; these were two in the small office dedicated to supporting the diverse dedicated educators and other individuals (e.g., the Teacher of the Year, local superintendents, professors, etc.) from across North Carolina who voluntarily serve on the SBE. The Assistant Director, a 42-year veteran of the agency who had been serving North Carolina Public Schools since before the superintendent was born, barely survived due to a noted public outcry, and was able to deservedly retire on her own terms soon thereafter. The Executive Director, incidentally the first African-American to serve in that role, was not so fortunate and lost his job unceremoniously. It is this kind of hostile work environment that drives me to write this letter, though under a pseudonym.

    This spring we are witnessing more poison pills to degrade the once-robust system for public education in North Carolina. One of these is the elimination or reassignment of three more staff positions (the Director of State Board Operations, a Legislative Specialist and an Administrative Assistant) that have capably provided SBE administrative and legal support. These are valued employees, public servants whose only job is to provide the year-round assistance the SBE requires to independently and efficiently function. They have been targeted by the superintendent and General Assembly because they dare to do their job and dutifully answer to the Chair and other SBE members. These are not public figures, they don’t have their own websites or run around with self-promotional photo shoots like our superintendent; instead, they are unassuming and quietly do their assigned tasks with fidelity and with dedication to upholding the public education systems and laws in North Carolina and the balance of educational powers enshrined in our state’s constitution. They do not deserve to have their careers impugned and threatened by the budgetary crosshairs of an overreaching superintendent and legislature.

    I can only ask that the public support these fine employees and that the good people in the General Assembly wake up and rescind this spiteful House power grab. Real people’s careers and livelihoods hang in the balance.

    Eileen Prince
    Raleigh

  3. Elizabeth Curry

    May 6, 2019 at 10:01 am

    It should be noted that the new teacher salary schedule only gives raises to teachers who have 16+ years of experience. And the raise is only $50 per year… which means after taxes they would probably get the same thing they are getting right now. So if you dont have a Masters degree or you arent a veteran teacher… your salary stays the exact same.

  4. Mann

    May 14, 2019 at 5:49 pm

    I have my masters but I don’t get paid for it. I missed the cut off date by 2 years!

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