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Education
An in-depth look at our region's emerging economic, social, political and cultural identity.

NC Senate Budget Adds Teachers, Cuts Teacher Assistants

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The North Carolina Senate and House are both dominated by Republicans. But they’re Republicans with big ideological differences in regards to tax incentives, spending, and Medicaid to name a few. As in past years, their education budgets also layout different priorities.      

WFAE’s Lisa Worf joins Morning Edition host Marshall Terry to look at what those priorities are.

TERRY: So, Lisa, let’s start with size. How do these budgets compare? 

WORF: It may not surprise you to hear that the Senate’s education budget is smaller than the House’s. Both increase spending. The Senate would add $453 million to k-12 education over two years. The House’s increase is about $1 billion.

TERRY: And where do we see the Senate putting that money? 

WORF: A lot of it goes to pay for growth. For example, the state expects an additional 17,338 students next year and districts need money to hire teachers to teach them. The House budget includes that same money. But the big addition in the Senate’s education budget includes a big subtraction too. 

TERRY: Okay, so lay out the math. 

WORF: There are a lot of numbers, so I’m going to take this a bit slowly. The Senate budget plan adds 3,285 teachers for students in their early years. It would reduce class sizes for kindergarten to 17 students, and for first, second, and third graders to 15 students. And to help pay for that, the plan cuts funding for 8,592 teacher assistants. To put that in perspective, the state currently funds 22,505 teacher assistants and that’s already after some big cuts. Here’s Senator Harry Brown laying out the thinking behind that.      

BROWN: If you can get down to a one to fifteen ratio, that is a key number for student learning. And that’s what we’ve done. We’ve put the number into more teachers to get class size reduced to that magic number that most will agree is key. For us, we just think having that good teacher in that classroom is the most important thing we can do.

WORF: And that’s why the Senate tried to cut a lot of teacher assistants last year to pay for a big raise for teachers. The governor and House leaders fought hard to save those jobs, since they see assistants being a big help in the early years. In the end, teachers got a smaller raise and most of the assistant positions were saved.

TERRY: Teacher raises continue to be a big topic.  How do the Senate and House approach this in their budgets? 

WORF: They both make good on their promises from last year to raise beginning teacher base pay from $33,000 to $35,000.That doesn’t include supplements most districts add to salaries. The House plan would spend more on raises by giving all other teachers at least a 2 percent pay increase. The Senate plan would boost salaries for other teachers too, but focus that money on those with less than twenty years of experience. Both bodies, would like to pay teachers based less on that and more on performance, but they haven’t figured out a good way to do that yet. 

TERRY: Are there any other big differences between the House and Senate budget proposals?

WORF: There are. The House includes an extra $92 million for textbooks and digital materials. Those funds have taken big cuts in recent years. The Senate plan increases money for that too, but by $58 million. The House plan also includes $42 million in extra money to improve schools wi-fi systems and training for digital tools. Both budgets include an increase in the money for vouchers for students from low-income families to attend private schools. The Senate increased that money by $13.6 million over two years.  The House by half that amount.  Of course, we’re still waiting on a state supreme court opinion to see if that program can go forward.

TERRY: So, who has the upper hand with regards to education. Is it the Senate or the House? 

WORF: It’s hard to tell. The House tends to be closer to the governor’s approach, so that adds some extra pressure. Last year, as I mentioned before, the two sides certainly had to compromise, but the House and Governor were able to hold out for the teacher assistants.