The 2014-15 State Budget for Education: A Confusing Mishmash

I am not sure there is a good way to describe the recently adopted state budget other than to call it “a confusing mishmash.” There are some things to celebrate in the new budget, but there are also a lot of things to be concerned about as we move into the 2014-15 school year. I want to take a few minutes here to review some of the key provisions and offer my perspective.

Teacher Pay: The budget offers an average raise of 7%, though this is the key point; 7% is not the flat raise across the board. Instead, the raises are heavily weighted at the front end of the pay scale. Those at the upper end of the scale received very little. They also complicated the matter by rolling longevity into the scale. There was no movement on the issue of paying extra for advanced degrees. Teachers with advanced degrees will be grandfathered in, but those not enrolled in a master’s program cannot receive pay for an advanced degree. While I applaud the significant raise for new teachers and those at the front of the scale, I am very concerned about the message it sends to our veteran teachers. These veteran teachers are often the teacher leaders in their schools and are a critical component of student success. A pay raise of less than 1% for some of these teachers will drive them away from the profession or to teach in other states.

Teacher Assistants: The spin around this issue is another example of political gamesmanship. The official announcement is that no teacher assistant positions were cut. What was not announced is that a large portion of this funding was in the form of non-recurring dollars. Non-recurring dollars are one time monies that cannot be budgeted going forward. Additionally, much of the TA fund was moved to the reduce class size teacher allotment, which forced many districts to choose between teachers and teacher assistants. We will not cut teacher assistant positions this year, but we will have to fight this all over again next year when the budget process begins for 2015-16.

Drivers Education: The budget calls for continuing Driver’s Education this year, but eliminates funding next year. It does allow for a fee increase to $65 for the 2014-15 school year. There is no way to fund the program next year at that rate. My hope is that this is addressed in next year’s budget, but we will have to wait and see.

Textbooks: There was an increase of sixty-two cents per student for textbooks. I am not sure what exactly you can get for an extra sixty-two cents. The last year textbooks were fully funded was in 2009 when we received $67.15 per pupil. The new allotment of $14.88 is 78% less than the 08-09 formula.

Non-Teacher Raises: Non-teachers received a raise of $500 for the year compared to a $1000 for other state employees. Again, the message here seems to be that the legislature values their work less than other state employees.

Planning Allotments: One change in the budget that has not received significant attention is the change to how school systems handle projected enrollment increases. In the past, growth funding was part of the continuation budget. The state planned for the growth and allocated positions based on that projection. Under this budget, they will no longer automatically fund growth. This change means that districts will not know if they have the positions or dollars to meet new growth demand. Instead, the process is at the whim of the legislative budget writers. It could force districts to choose between addressing growth and maintaining the current level of service.

Other Budget Items: There was a 3% decrease to central office administration and 1% decrease for transportation. Any funds remaining for the Teaching Fellows Program were eliminated. They did, however, find additional money for school vouchers. This means your tax dollars will subsidize even more private schools that do not meet the same standards as public schools.

What is not in the Budget: There are several items that were talked about but did not make it into the budget. One was the Governor’s proposed career ladder, which I believe would have benefited all teachers. There were no changes to the tenure law that was passed last year.

I have always believed that a budget is a person’s or organization’s philosophy in actions. Looking at this budget, one could conclude that the current state government does not value teacher assistants and veteran educators and is not willing to commit to the long-term needs of the students in North Carolina. While there was some progress, I can only hope that in the long session there will be real substantive progress for the students in our state.

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