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NC Education Budget: Reading Between Lines

Photo: North Carolina lawmakers are debating education funding for the 2015-17 budget cycle. Photo credit: beanworks/morguefile.com
Photo: North Carolina lawmakers are debating education funding for the 2015-17 budget cycle. Photo credit: beanworks/morguefile.com
June 17, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. - The North Carolina Senate's proposed budget for the next two years is touting increased education funding, but once the chalk dust settles, not everyone is convinced it's all good news for public schools in the state.

In the fine print, the budget would eliminate more than 8,000 assistants, which veteran Wake County teacher Melanie Walker said will have a big impact on students with the prevalence of large classroom sizes, "especially when you take away TAs, who really are invaluable when it comes to helping in the classroom, especially a large classroom.

"A teacher's working environment is a student's learning environment."

On Thursday, members of the North Carolina Association of Teacher Assistants will gather in Raleigh to speak with lawmakers about the proposed cuts. The budget also would cut 500 pre-kindergarten spots, and because of a funding shift, community colleges are likely to raise tuition.

Supporters of the budget say it would provide an additional $58 million for textbooks and increased funding for some programs, including opportunity scholarships.

North Carolina recently got a failing grade from the Education Law Center for the state's funding of education. According to the center's analysis, North Carolina teachers make about 30 percent less than the national average, and education funding is from 19 percent to 25 percent below pre-recession levels. David Sciarra, the center's executive director, said the problem in the Tar Heel State comes down to the priorities of lawmakers.

"There just seems to be a continued unwillingness by lawmakers, the governors and legislators to make the tough choices and courageous choices to both raise more state money for its education budget and then allocate that money to school districts that need it the most," he said.

Also under the Senate budget, teachers with more than 25 years of experience would get no raise. For teachers with 20 to 24 years of experience, their raise would be about $50 a month.

Walker retired at the end of this school year, partly because of compensation and workload.

"You can't come into this job the first year or the second year and be an exemplary teacher," she said. "I feel North Carolina is just really dissing their veteran teachers and saying, 'We don't want you anymore. Just go away.' "

The Education Law Center report is online at schoolfundingfairness.org.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC