by Dr. Terry Stoops
Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
This week, House Republicans released their full biennial budget proposal. Budget writers included parts of the budget that they did not unveil last week, such as teacher and state employee pay plans. In addition to the usual increases in employee compensation, House budget writers packed an enormous amount of education policy in the proposed $25.7 billion budget released this week.
The House budget includes raises for North Carolina teachers over the next two years. The average increase would be 5.5%, but the increases are not distributed evenly. Because of the structure of the state salary schedule, actual teacher salary increases would vary by years of experience. In general, the House plan favors our most experienced teachers; that is, those who have at least 15 years of experience. The overall increase exceeds the 3% average increase offered by the Senate but falls short of Gov. Roy Cooper’s proposed 10% boost in teacher pay.
House budget writers included several provisions that would appeal to early career teachers who would miss out on the sizable increases proposed for their more experienced counterparts. Those include eight weeks of paid paternal leave and restoration of salary supplements for those with a master’s degree, the latter of which would ignore decades of research concluding that additional payments for most graduate degrees are poor investments.
In addition to receiving their usual experience-based or step increase, young educators could receive one or more bonuses. The House proposal includes a $500 bonus for all state employees, a $1,000 bonus for employees making less than $75,000 a year, and a $500 bonus for those making less than $40,000. Teachers and instructional support personnel working with students with visual and hearing impairments would receive a $350 bonus. Certain math and reading teachers would receive a $300 bonus in lieu of performance bonuses previously awarded based on student performance. Bonuses would continue for Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and career and technical education teachers based on students’ performance on standardized tests or certification exams.
And the compensation parade doesn’t end there. The budget would set aside $100 million for experienced and high-performing teachers who would receive permission from their principals to extend their contracts from 10 to 11 months. Wages for noncertified school personnel, including bus drivers and service workers, would increase to $13 an hour during the first year of the biennium and $15 during the second year. Finally, retirees would receive bonuses of 2% each year for the next two years.
The policy changes related to school choice and curriculum matters far exceed the compensation provisions in ambition and scope. Charter schools would benefit from several provisions, including water and sewer requirements for municipalities, zoning reform, the establishment of a permanent Charter School Transportation Grant Program, and a more forgiving application review process. Lawmakers would extend the virtual charter school pilot and permit continued enrollment expansion in the state’s two online charter programs.
The House budget includes the Equity in Opportunity Act. This would expand the Opportunity Scholarship Program for low-income children and combine two private school programs for children with disabilities into a single education savings account (ESA). Disappointingly, House budget writers excluded language associated with House Bill 934: The Student Success Program, a common-sense bill designed to address learning loss by providing ESA funds for supplemental education services, tutoring, and instructional materials.
House Republicans would create an Opportunity Gap Task Force based on a bipartisan bill of the same name. The appointment members of the task force would study the educational opportunity gap between races, examine best practices for closing the gap, and issue recommendations based on that study. Another new entity, the Standard Course of Study Advisory Commission, would create rules and recommendations for academic content standards. Presumably, their first order of business would be to develop new social studies standards, which the budget bill delays for at least two years. The advisory commission and standards-delay measures are consistent with John Locke Foundation recommendations.
The Locke Foundation has discussed the urgent need for House Bill 755: Academic Transparency. This legislation would require public school teachers to post outlines of lesson plans and assignments to publicly accessible websites after the conclusion of each school year. House budget writers included academic transparency language in the budget bill but may encounter resistance to the idea from Senate leaders, who favor more direct strategies for ensuring classrooms are free of indoctrination and bias.
House members incorporated additional academic transparency measures in their biennial budget. For example, the bill would create multiple opportunities for parents and the public to review books, instructional materials, and supplementary materials under consideration or adopted by school boards for use in public schools. School boards would have an obligation to create a local community media advisory committee to “investigate and evaluate challenges from parents, teachers, and members of the public to instructional materials and supplemental materials on the grounds that they are unfit materials.” A State Community Media Advisory Committee would also review challenges to instructional materials.
The House will complete its budget votes this week, and both chambers will appoint members to the conference committee to negotiate a final budget. Given that the Senate and House budgets have several common elements, their primary task will be to formulate a teacher compensation plan that satisfies their respective caucuses. In addition, they will need to come to a consensus about the policy components to be included in the budget presented to Gov. Cooper. The education portion of the budget is the section of the plan most likely to trigger a gubernatorial veto.
My advice would be to ignore the critics who complain that proposed increases in education spending are insufficient or inconsistent with those of the consultants and advocacy groups who formulated a multi-billion-dollar Leandro remedial plan without input from lawmakers or conservative stakeholders. The North Carolina Constitution unequivocally grants budget and taxing authority to the General Assembly, not to politically motivated interlopers trying to use the courts to usurp legislative primacy over state expenditures.
Note: Click here for a brief discussing other features of the House budget proposal.