News: CJ Exclusives

House will modify Senate’s education budget, Horn says

Education chairman says late-career teachers should continue getting salary bumps, asks how DPI will make major cuts in budget

Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, at a March press conference to announce the filing of a bill to enact the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program, a plan to help draw teachers to low-income and rural schools. (CJ Photo by Kari Travis)
Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, at a March press conference to announce the filing of a bill to enact the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program, a plan to help draw teachers to low-income and rural schools. (CJ Photo by Kari Travis)

RALEIGH — Some education items in the Senate budget will remain, House leaders say.

But some will go.

Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, chairman of the House Committee on K-12 Education, told Carolina Journal the changes are imminent.

Teacher pay gets top billing. The Senate budget provides an average 3.7 percent pay raise for teachers the first year. Starting salaries for new teachers would remain at $35,000 a year, and early-to-mid career teachers would see raises from 1.7 percent to 8.5 percent.

Teachers with more than 25 years’ experience would see no change, and that’s a problem, Horn said.

“The concern that I have is that we continue to put off dealing with our more experienced teachers,” Horn said. “That creates some challenges for us as a legislature in conveying the message that teachers are important, and that we value experienced teachers, because we’ve come to understand how important mentor teachers are to the young people coming into the profession.”

Horn said classroom performance is the best measure for pay raises.

“Teacher pay, like all pay, should be very much tied to outcomes. What are we getting for what we’re paying?”

Horn praised the Senate’s approach to teacher recruitment, a major concern for the state’s low-income and rural schools.

The budget locks down $4.6 million to fund Senate Bill 252, the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program.

Horn, a primary sponsor of the House version of that legislation, said the program will encourage up-and-coming teachers in science, technology, engineering, math, and special education to remain in North Carolina’s public schools.

The program would award eligible students forgivable college loans of up to $8,250 annually for four years.

It’s an important investment in long-term teacher recruitment and maintenance, Horn said.

“I don’t want the teaching profession to be a short-term gig,” he added. “That’s not in the best interest of the students. The teaching profession is, in fact, a profession. That means long-term. … People want to know that they have a future. That if they do well, they can continue to improve their economic status and raise a family and buy a home and all that.”

The House also may spend more to support accessibility and accountability in early childhood education.

Preschools are failing children across the state, said Horn, who would like to fund a new position in the Department of Public Instruction, assistant superintendent of early childhood education.

That official would oversee training for early childhood teachers and be held accountable for how those teachers perform.

“We … need to pursue early education, and particularly improve how it is melded into the K-12 environment,” he said. “So what does that mean? I think we need to train our early educators better, and we need to be taking action that results in a better use of the continuum of education.”

Other portions of the budget are more controversial.

Senate leaders slashed DPI’s budget by 25 percent, cutting $13.2 million from the department’s more than $52 million plan. The proposal cuts $513,000, the equivalent of four staff positions, from the budget of the State Board of Education.

In contrast, State Superintendent Mark Johnson received an allotment of $433,000 to fund up to five positions in his office.

The Senate’s move is a power play spurred by recent tensions between the General Assembly and the state board, said Terry Stoops, vice president of research and education studies at the John Locke Foundation.

Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed House Bill 17, which stripped the board of some of its administrative powers and gave them to Johnson.

Board members sued the state over the law’s constitutionality.

That lawsuit is ongoing.

The Senate’s budget allocated $300,000 to pay for Johnson’s legal fees.

“While we wait for the courts to decide if House Bill 17 is constitutional, the Senate budget — like Thor, the god of thunder in Norse mythology — dropped the hammer on the State Board of Education,” Stoops said.

The Senate plan cut other items in the state board’s budget.

“While the budget proposal eliminates key positions in the state board’s office, other provisions are notable,” Stoops said. “For example, the Senate budget includes provisions that would limit per diem and expenses of members of the board. The budget would also prohibit the state board from using of state funds to employ private counsel in litigation.”

Stoops added, “I would not be surprised to see the House budget include some of the same cuts to the state board budget. After all, both chambers have been sympathetic to Superintendent Johnson.”

The Senate’s budget provides “a sad commentary on the current condition of what’s going on between the board and the superintendent,” Horn said.

But, he said, the planned cuts to DPI’s budget are controversial and confusing.

Senate leaders gave the department no guidance about how to trim costs by as much as 25 percent, Horn said.

The Senate did tell DPI where not to cut, however. “Reductions shall not come from residential schools, community in schools.”

Teach for America, the Excellent Public Schools Act, School Connectivity Program, Achievement School District, and positions appointed by and directly reporting to the state superintendent also were declared off-limits for budget cuts.

“As I look through the legislation that’s been passed this year, we’re asking for more information, more reports, more teaching, more professional development,” Horn said. “We’re asking DPI to do more. So I’ll be anxious to hear from the Senate what it is they don’t want DPI to do so that they don’t spend that money.”

On May 12, State Board Chairman Bill Cobey told NC Policy Watch a “25 percent cut, which I can’t believe will be the result of this process, would cut into very essential services for particularly the rural and poor counties.”

Cobey said “[Johnson] should be very concerned, too. Because he’s the guy that manages the agency.”

Cobey was traveling and unavailable for comment to CJ at press time.

House committees are working on the budget and plan to wrap up their work by the Memorial Day weekend. The budget may reach a vote of the full body the week of May 29.