Education funding in Senate budget: raises, safety, and school choice

source: NHCS

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  • This will put average teacher pay in North Carolina at $59,121 by the end of FY 2024–25.

The North Carolina Senate gave bipartisan passage (36-13) to their version of the state budget on Wednesday, with final votes slated for Thursday morning. Assuming the House votes not to concur with the Senate’s changes to the budget proposal they passed in April, the two chambers will “conference” to negotiate their differences and decide on a final budget.

The largest chunk of the Senate’s nearly $30 billion budget is education. It includes substantial investments in K-12 education, with teacher raises, Opportunity Scholarship grants, a new school health personnel allotment, and safety. 

Teacher Raises 

Educators around the state would receive an average raise of 4.5% over the biennium, with starting teacher pay increasing by almost 11%. This will put average teacher pay in North Carolina at $59,121 by the end of FY 2024–25. Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham said these increases will help keep the state competitive with others and promote teaching as a viable profession. “This keeps us on par with neighboring states, the increases in starting teacher pay along with the UNC System keeping tuition flat at our universities should help encourage more adults to pursue teaching as a profession.” 

Democrat Governor Roy Cooper called the $4.5 raise “pitiful” and slammed lawmakers for what he calls “tax breaks and private school vouchers to millionaires”. 

Opportunity Scholarships 

As part of Republicans’ ongoing efforts to promote school choice in North Carolina, the budget includes portions of Senate Bill 406 that expands the Opportunity Scholarship Program for all families in the state. While also increasing the amount in the scholarship fund by almost $60 million by the end of the biennium. 

Families eligible for free or reduced-price lunch will receive the full State per pupil allotment, approximately $7,400 for this year. Families with incomes above the threshold for free or reduced-price lunch will receive a sliding scale of 90%, 60%, or 45% of the per pupil allotment to be used in private education based on income.

“School choice has been a core priority for the republican general assembly.” said Sen. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover, “This creates a sliding scale of availability for scholarships for students to attend private schools.” 

School Health Personnel Allotment 

Several positions previously categorized as ‘Instructional Support’ within school systems throughout the state, such as psychologists, school counselors, school nurses, and social workers, are being reclassified. These positions will now be part of the School Health Personnel Allotment, which will receive recurring funding of $10 million.

“This will hopefully generate over 120 more nurses, counselors, and social workers,” Lee said during the Monday budget announcement.

Sen. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover

School Safety Grants 

The budget proposed by Senate Republicans also includes a provision to allocate $70 million over a two-year period for the implementation of enhanced safety and security measures in schools. The grant, which has $35 million per year set aside, can be used for safety equipment, school safety training, subsidizing the School Resource Officer Grants Program, and services for students in crisis.

“This isn’t just for school resource officers and what you traditionally think of school safety, it also is to help students in crisis” said Lee. 

An overview of the entire senate budget can be found here

Editor’s Note: This story was updated on Thursday May 18, 2023.