Coming home from Raleigh after the legislature adjourned, I received many emails and phonecalls from members of our community, concerned about education in our great state. I want to take this opportunity to lay out the facts about education funding in North Carolina, and dispel some of the inaccuracies spread by otherwise well-meaning citizens who want the best opportunities for our students, as do I.
FACT: This budget spends more money on education than has EVER been spent on education in North Carolina ($11.5 billion out of a total $20.6 billion budget – more than half). In addition, the NC legislature budgeted more than $18 million to invest in statewide school security and safety measures, including crisis planning, panic alarms, instant communication with police and other measures. The budget agreement also increases K-12 education spending by 2.1% when compared to 2011-2013 actual spending ($15.29 billion in 2011-13 and $15.91 billion appropriated for 2013-2015).
At the college level, the budget allows increases in out-of-state tuition at public universities to keep tuition affordable for North Carolina families. The budget does phase-out new pay supplements for teachers who earn a Masters’ degree, unless the advanced degree is required for their position. If a teacher is already collecting supplemental pay, or their Masters degree will be completed by April 1, 2014, they will be grandfathered in and will still collect that supplement.
The plan also moves teachers to multi-year renewable contracts. Their contract length will depend on experience and performance reviews. The plan is intended to reward high-performing teachers with longer contracts and give principals the flexibility they need.
This session, the legislature also made targeted investments to modernize North Carolina’s education system for the new economy. For example, money was targeted for increasing digital textbooks and digital training for teachers and administrators as part of their licensure. Another measure directs the State Board of Education to work with community colleges to create high school programs in engineering, technology and other high-employment fields. The programs will prepare high school students for work, higher education or both. The Back to Basics law passed this year provides a return to NC classrooms of proven curriculum, such as cursive writing and multiplication tables memorization, as well as at least one art class during middle school.
A pilot program called Opportunity Scholarships also passed this session. The scholarships allow low-income students with disabilities to attend private school if their needs are not able to be met in traditional public schools. This pilot program would allow low-income families to receive the same opportunity that wealthier families enjoy. It is part of North Carolina’s ongoing effort to create new, innovative programs so that kids with high potential and low opportunities do not fall through the cracks.
In the Tax Reform plan signed into law by Governor McCrory, all North Carolina citizens, including teachers, pay less in taxes. Standard deductions increased to $15,000 for taxpayers who are married filing jointly, $12,000 for heads of household and $7,500 for single filers. The child credit also went from $100 to $125 per dependent for families making less than $40,000. For the most vulnerable North Carolinians, the tax rate is still 0%. When teachers, parents and all taxpayers keep more of their hard-earned money, it is good for our state economy. In fact, the tax reform plan moved North Carolina from 44th to the 17th most business-friendly state. That ultimately means more jobs for North Carolinians, and more money for schools, roads, and all of our priorities.
Change is always unsettling, but as a state we must meet the challenges of a changing economy and provide our children the opportunities they need to lead this state into the future. A results-driven plan with a focus on modern skills and a smooth transition to higher education will allow us to leave our students with a better North Carolina than we inherited.