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State schools superintendent offers budget, including pay raises for teachers

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson, pictured here in his office. (CJ photo by Don Carrington)
N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson, pictured here in his office. (CJ photo by Don Carrington)

State Superintendent Mark Johnson has put a price tag on his plan to make North Carolina the best place for public school educators to begin, learn, and teach by 2030.

Johnson announced #NC2030, his education initiative to improve learning and teaching environments in the state, at a Feb. 19 dinner for legislators, educators, school and district leaders, and business and community leaders. On Friday, March 8, Johnson released his budget recommendations for the 2019-21 fiscal biennium.

#NC2030 is split into three parts: making North Carolina the best place to begin, the best place to learn and pursue career pathways, and the best place to teach.

Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, a co-chairman of the House Education Appropriations Committee, said Johnson’s #NC2030 is an ambitious goal and something everyone should get behind.

There’s just one catch.

“The challenge is where do we start?” Horn asked. “The reality is we don’t have a billion and a half dollars in recurring money to put into the budget.”

Horn said Johnson will be invited to speak to the committee about his priorities. Lawmakers will decide what gets funding and what will have to wait for another day.

“To become the best place to learn and the best place to teach by 2030, we need to take steps now,” Johnson said in the introduction to his budget recommendation. “The #NC2030 plan is ambitious but achievable. Our educators are doing their part. It will take innovation and leadership to make it happen.”

Johnson recommends $1.2 million in recurring funds to provide high-quality preschool opportunities for 4-year-olds and wants the Department of Public Instruction to supervise the NC PreK academic standards and program approval. For those on the waitlist for PreK, the budget recommends $1 million in recurring funds for an at-home tool to help close the readiness gap. Nearly $2 million in recurring funds is recommended for kindergarten-readiness pilot programs.

The state superintendent also asked for $9 million in recurring funds to provide support and mentoring for reading teachers, as well as to expand Wolfpack Works, a program to improve literacy instruction through professional development for K-3 reading teachers.

To boost learning, Johnson wants $10 million in recurring funds to eliminate high-stress standardized testing and implement a phased-in plan for personalized-learning opportunities across the state.

The budget places an emphasis on STEM learning, including $1.5 million in recurring funds to expand computer science courses statewide and hire qualified instructors to teach the courses. Johnson recommends $900 thousand for a coding and robotics grant for middle and high school students, as well as $1.5 million in recurring funds to help students develop and enhance career-readiness skills through the SkillsUSA Career Essentials program.

School safety measures are a big part of the budget recommendations. The budget outlines $72 million in recurring funds, plus $10 million in nonrecurring funds for the fiscal biennium to continue and expand grants for school mental health professionals and school resource officers. Other related requests include $11 million in nonrecurring funds in fiscal 2019-21 for school safety equipment and training grants, and $600,000 in recurring funds for regional safety trainers.

Johnson’s budget would shift more lottery funding to help lower-income counties with public school capital needs. The budget suggests $57 million for the first fiscal year and $95 million for the next fiscal year.

Teachers would get a pay bump from the state superintendent’s budget. Under Johnson’s plan, all teachers would see a salary increase of at least 5 percent, but the state superintendent recommends as much as a 7 percent pay raise to make the state more competitive in terms of teacher pay. Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget proposal calls for a 9.1 percent teacher pay raise over two years. 

Like the governor, Horn said the state superintendent doesn’t have to worry about raising money. That’s the legislature’s job. Lawmakers don’t have an infinite pool of money and must prioritize some items over others.

Horn said raising teacher pay is among those top priorities.

“If we don’t raise teacher pay we are going to continue to have a dwindling supply of teachers,” Horn said. “Salary is important, but there are also other ways to get at that, including advanced teacher roles, the teaching fellows, and you could make the case for master’s pay.”

Other funding requests in Johnson’s proposal include:

  • $73 million in recurring funds to create professional teaching cohorts for the whole state
  • $50 million in recurring funds to increase principal pay
  • $5 million in recurring funds to expand the Advanced Teaching Roles Pilot
  • $16 million in recurring funds for textbook funding
  • $15 million in recurring funds to raise the special needs funding cap from 12.75 percent to 13.5 percent
  • $1.2 million in recurring funds to create a data-analytics unit to provide data-driven support to districts and policymakers