If I ever had any concerns that no one was reading my newsletter, those concerns were assuaged by the responses to my last newsletter in which I observed that I had heard very little from my constituents about the budget, particularly from Henderson County teachers. That changed last week.
While the responses were not overwhelming, I received a pretty steady flow of communications from Henderson County residents — mostly about the education budget, but also on a range of issues from solid waste legislation to the funding of Drug and Alcohol Rehab centers.
My primary focus this past week was the education portion of the House budget. The budget is put together by various subcommittees, and I co-chair the committee that put forward the education budget: K through 12, Community Colleges, and the University System. If I were to characterize the House budget proposal, I’d say its educational focus is on innovation in schools and protecting dollars that directly impact the classroom.
The House budget provides $11.5 for education — a reduction of 2.2%. It includes $7.9 billion for the K-12 system (a 1% reduction), which is smaller than the Senate’s cut and similar to Governor McCrory’s proposal.
The proposed House budget restores funding for the Teaching Fellows program (and the NCCAT), and reduces the School Boards’ flexibility adjustment in the second year. The proposed House budget provides $26 million in lottery funds for digital learning initiatives in the K-12 budget, but this will not be completely good news for counties since it reduces the county allocation, which in Henderson County is used to pay off debt related to school construction.
The House Budget funds several new initiatives for public schools:
- Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate: Provides $1.5 million in FY 2013-14 and $15.8 million in FY 2014-15 to encourage participation in AP/IB and award incentive bonuses to teachers of successful students;
- Opportunity Scholarships: Provides scholarship grants of $4,200 per year for eligible students to attend nonpublic schools;
- School Safety: Provides $16 million for additional school resource officers, school counselors, social workers, and installation of panic alarms;
- Career Technology Education Test Fees & Incentive Bonuses: Provides $1.2 million in FY 2013-14 and $7.0 million in FY 2014-15 to defray student fees for certification exams, and provide incentive bonuses to the School Boards’ on the basis of student certification in high-value fields;
- Education Innovation Grants: Supports a $2.0 million pilot program providing competitive grants to innovative schools and School Boards
Perhaps the issue on which I heard the most was funding of Teaching Assistants. The House proposed budget reduces funding for Teacher Assistants by 4% in FY 2013-14 and by 5% in FY 2014-15. The Senate Budget reduced funding for Teacher Assistants by approximately 25%. The House budget also fully funds the allotments for textbooks and school supplies.
The Community College System receives $1 billion in the House budget (a 2.4% reduction). The House plan budgets $2.6 billion for the UNC system, which is a reduction of 5.5%. This reduction is larger than the Senate, but smaller than Goernor McCrory’s budget.
One of the new initiatives in the UNC budget is the NC Guaranteed Admission Program (NC GAP), which will provide certain students with guaranteed admission to a UNC campus as a junior upon completion of an associate’s degree. A reduction of $12.6 million to UNC enrollment funding is included for FY 2014-15; additionally, $4.5 million nonrecurring in FY 2014-15 is provided in the Community College section for an anticipated increase in enrollment in that system. The idea here is to save money by diverting some number of students from the high-cost UNC System to the lower cost Community College system.
Both the Community College budget and the UNC budget include tuition increases. For community colleges, tuition increases by $2.50 per credit hour for all students. The UNC tuition increases tuition for nonresident students by 12.3% at the larger universities and by 6% at the other campuses, including Western Carolina University and UNC-Asheville.
My biggest concern with the House budget is teacher and faculty salaries, specifically our inability to provide raises. One may wonder how the Governor was able to provide a 1% pay raise but neither the Senate’s budget nor the House’s proposed budget provide funds for a raise.
Since March, when the Governor submitted his budget, we have better data on expected state revenues and expenses. While the revenue forecast has improved slightly, the funding of Medicaid (which is an entitlement) has ballooned. Essentially additional revenues and funding for the small pay raise has been consumed by increased Medicaid funding.
Other Program Funding
Last night, the entire House budget was posted on-line on the General Assembly’s website. I got my copy of the budget this morning, and I’ve just begun to go through it. Have a look over here to get my take on the rest of the budget, including allocations for the Departments of Health and Human Services, Natural and Economic Resources, Justice and Public Safety, Transportation, Information Technology, and General Government.