by Dr. Robert Luebke
Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
Governor Cooper released his budget recommendations earlier today (you can find it here). The spending is ambitious and, in some cases, eye-popping.
The budget is largely a political document. Politicians use budgets to appeal to their base. As such, the numbers here shouldn’t be surprising. With a Republican-led General Assembly however, Cooper’s budget doesn’t have much of a chance of being adopted. Therefore, a deep dive is hardly warranted. Still a few items from the K-12 education area are worth noting:
Pay Raises. The Governor’s budget includes an average 18 percent pay raise over two years to attract and retain teachers, principals, and instructional personnel. The Governor’s plan also raises the minimum teacher salary to $46,000 a year, plus local salary supplement. With the changes, North Carolina teachers and administrators would rank first in the Southeast. Cost: $1.65 billion over two years.
Leandro. Provides $630 million over the biennium to fully fund the Comprehensive Remedial Plan so North Carolina can comply with Leandro court decision. Cooper’s recommendations restore master’s pay for classroom teachers whose advanced degrees are in subjects that they teach. Cost: $20 million over two years.
Bonuses. Provide $1,000 bonus for all LEA and state employees. Cost: $247 million, over two years.
Specialized Instructional Support Personnel. Supplies additional funds to hire school counselors, nurses, social workers, and psychologists to support mental and physical health of students. Cost: $251 million over two years.
Opportunity Scholarship Program. Once again, the Governor is opting to freeze and shut down this popular voucher program. Cost: reductions total about $47 million in 2023-24.
Let’s get this right: 18 percent pay raises for teachers, $1,000 bonuses for LEA employees, funding for the Comprehensive Remedial Plan and for more specialized instructional support personnel. If you’re a North Carolina public school educator, it feels like Christmas; billions in new spending are coming your way.
Not so if you’re one of the 24,000 recipients of the Opportunity Scholarship, According to the Governor there is no more money, and Cooper wants the program shut down.
Some relevant facts: The current value of scholarship awards for the Opportunity Scholarship is about $131.9 million. That equates to about 1.1 percent of state funds for K-12 public education in North Carolina.
The Governor’s budget document is titled “First in Opportunity.”
That’s certainly not the case if you’re one of the thousands of families depending on the popular program to secure a better education for your children.
Why go after a program, that’s growing, successful and supported by two-thirds of registered voters in North Carolina?
Ask the Governor.