On Wednesday, Sept. 20 at 4:00 p.m. the 600+ page budget (2023 Appropriations Act/ HB 259) was shared with House and Senate members 83 days after the budget deadline.
The budget is huge, so below is a few of the various provisions, starting with several that affect education.
Teacher salaries increase an average of 4% this year and 3% next year for a total of 7% over the next two years. Early career teachers receive larger increases than veteran teachers, but the numbers are low for everyone. The new budget raises salaries for teachers a paltry $106 to $200/month for 2023-24 and just $82 to $106/month for 2024-25 depending on years of experience.
Starting salaries for beginning teachers increase from $37,000 to $39,000/year in 2023-24 and to $41,000/year in 2024-25. However, teachers with the most experience (25+ years) will see their salaries grow a paltry $1,950 over two years, from $54,000 to $55,100 in 2023-24 and to $55,950 in 2024-25. This is the maximum base salary available to North Carolina teachers. Many local districts add supplemental pay, but the amount varies widely across districts.
Teachers who are in their 15th through 24th years of teaching have it the worst. Their salaries increase only $1,880 over the two years (just 2% this year) and have no step increases for years of experience until they reach 25 years. This budget seems designed to push teachers out of the profession when they reach 15 years.
Principal salaries also increase approximately 4% per year.
Private school voucher expansion will send millions of dollars each year to unaccountable private schools instead of the public schools that educate nearly 80% of the students in North Carolina.
Within a few years more than $520,000,000 million dollars per year will be allocated for vouchers.
The budget expands eligibility to all private school students, removing any requirement for previous public school attendance. Where voucher eligibility has been expanded in other states, the majority (up to 89%) of voucher recipients have never attended public school.
Taxpayers Alert: The budget also removes income restrictions, so even wealthy families qualify for the vouchers. The amount provided for the vouchers is set on a sliding scale with 100% of the average per-pupil allocation going to families earning 100% or less of the federal free/reduced lunch qualifying income ($55,000 for 2023-24).
The top bracket is for families earning 450% or more of the free/reduced lunch qualifying income ($249,000/year +). They will receive 45% of the average per-pupil allocation.
And because voucher supporters want to generate interest in vouchers, the marketing budget for vouchers just went up from $500,000/year to $1,000,000/year!
Further, there are no meaningful accountability provisions, and the budget calls for just 6% of the applications to be screened for fraud.
The state (taxpayers) will start footing the bill for annual testing in grades 3, 8, or 11 for voucher students this school year. Private schools are already required to test students in those grades, so this is a new taxpayer expense.
However, the required tests are not the NC EOG or EOC tests taken by public school students, so results cannot be compared to public school student achievement. Private school students take national tests (e.g. ITBS) that do not directly measure the NC Standard Course of Study. The private school test performance data is not public record, unlike public school test performance data. How will the public, taxpayers, parents, or legislators know if this expenditure of tax dollars is effective? How will they know if the students are progressing appropriately in terms of academic achievement.
The Teaching Fellows Program gains two new universities, bringing the participating schools to 10. This number is still far below the 17 schools in the original program. The program now applies to teachers seeking licensure in special education, STEM, or elementary education (K-6) and awards up to $40K in forgivable loans for completion of eight semesters. For each year the qualifying teacher remains an active teacher in NC, the amount of the loan received per year (plus accrued interest) is forgiven.
High school graduation requirements for a three-year program must be offered by traditional high schools and all ninth graders must be made aware of the availability of the early graduation opportunities.
Parents Bill of Rights (SB 49) implementation is moved from September 15 to January 1, 2024 to give districts and schools time to develop clear guidance for educators and families. While this helps in time allocated to implement the changes, it has policy that is harmful to children and their families.
Early childhood education fares poorly in the budget. The budget instructs the Division of Early Childhood Education to use remaining American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to extend compensation grants for early education programs, but includes no new funding to replace the dollars lost by other early childhood priorities currently receiving the funding. The ARPA funding ends in June 2024. Because the budget includes no new funding to replace the ARAP dollars, many childcare programs will be forced to close. There is already a large waiting list for slots due to closings over the past three years.
The budget also increases NC Pre-K class size from 18 to 20 children and increases the number of children allowed to be enrolled in family child care home programs from 9 to 10 children. What will the impact be in terms of quality care?
Business leaders have expressed concern that lack of support for early childhood education will harm the state’s ability to develop talent or attract talent from other areas.
Medicaid expansion can now move forward, extending affordable health care to more than 600,000 North Carolinians, including many children. Better health affects all aspects of life, including education, so this is a huge benefit for students. While the bill expanding Medicaid access was officially signed into law in March, implementation was tied to the budget passing into law. Six months of care was withheld for families and children who needed it!
School meals received a boost in the budget with funding to permanently eliminate the reduced-price lunch copay. This means that students qualifying for reduced-price lunch will receive it at no cost. The reduced-price breakfast copay was eliminated in 2011.
The budget also includes language that prohibits schools from withholding student records or keeping students from participating in graduation due to school meal debt.
Although there are a number of positive provisions in the budget, taken as a whole, it will be devastating for North Carolina’s public education system. It does nothing to encourage educator recruitment or retention or address decades of underfunding in all areas including the need for teacher assistants, school social workers, school nurses, school psychologists, and school counselors. At the same time when child suicide is at the highest levels ever recorded.
This budget accelerates the state’s movement away from the constitutionally mandated unified system of public education and toward a dual system in which taxpayers fund both a public education system with robust accountability that is open to all students and also a private education system with no accountability that freely discriminates against students it doesn’t want to educate. This budget favors the wealthy and neglects the working poor and families living at poverty levels.