EducationNews & Opinion

NC House Budget Proposal Gives Glimpse at Funding Goals

Senate leaders say bill won't see a vote in their chamber

A girl raises her hand in the classroom, budget proposal
Funding for public and private education has been a source of consternation in the NC House’s latest budget proposal. (AdobeStock)

North Carolina House leaders released their proposed budget this week, putting forward a recommendation to raise the starting salary for teachers from $41,000 to $44,000 a year. With strong opposition from the NC Senate, however, the proposal is not expected to pass through both chambers.  

The budget proposal also includes raises for both teachers and state government employees, with a proposed additional 1% raise for state employees on top of the 3% raise set to take effect next month.

The bill proposes additional pay for teachers with master’s degrees, $250 million toward the Opportunity Scholarships school voucher program, $135 million in federal funding for childcare centers, and a 2% bonus for retired government employees, among other adjustments.

Although the budget bill shows progress in starting teacher pay, North Carolina Association of Educators President Tamika Walker Kelly criticized the continued increase in funding to Opportunity Scholarships, which provides private school vouchers to K-12 students who do not wish to attend public school.

The program has been criticized by many in the education field as a way for conservatives to undermine public education in the state.  

“Our teachers and public school employees just finished another successful school year, making extraordinary efforts to teach our kids in the face of continued staff shortages, low pay and lack of respect,” Kelly said in a statement on Monday. 

“How much longer will they hang on?” she continued. “We lost 1 in 9 teachers just last year. Master’s pay and beginning teacher raises give hope, but an expansion of private school vouchers won’t help. Educators are looking for lawmakers to match our effort so we can continue to support North Carolina’s students.”

The North Carolina Budget & Tax Center, a nonprofit that documents fiscal and economic conditions in underserved communities, put out a statement on Tuesday insisting that the budget reveals the shortcomings associated with closed-door negotiations that should have been open to the public.

“With a process so insulated from public view and disconnected from people’s everyday realities, it’s no surprise that the House budget doesn’t make the commitment we need to build a better future in our state,” the release read.

The statement goes on to critique the budget for failing to adequately fund a number of critical priorities identified by North Carolinians in an early 2023 poll.  

“Rather than drive $1 billion in unanticipated state funds to priorities people have identified — public schools for every child to learn in, child care that is affordable to working families, and affordable housing to keep all families sheltered — the House budget reflects the power and interests of a select few by maintaining the status quo,” the press release said.

“The proposed budget diverts more state money to private schools while failing to adequately fund compensation grants for child care providers, who receive one-time federal money,” the statement continues. “The result is that this budget neither stabilizes the childcare system nor provides critical education services to all those in need and the state’s obligation to provide a sound, basic public education to every child goes unfunded.” 

The House held a committee hearing on the budget bill Tuesday and plan to vote on the budget either today or Thursday, though the budget isn’t expected to have much chance in the NC Senate. 

While leaders in both chambers have been debating for weeks on how to use the projected surplus of around $1 billion, Republican Senate leaders have shot down any chance of the bill seeing a vote due to what they say is overspending. 

Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger, a Republican, has also been vocal in his opposition to the proposed budget, blaming the holdup in budget progress on “pork” projects sought by the House. He told The News & Observer “the Senate will not go along with that.”

Read more: OPINION: Stop Calling Our Schools ‘Bad’

House Democratic Leader Robert Reives released a statement late Monday afternoon calling the House’s proposal “theater” and claiming that the budget process is broken.

“To use this week to pass a budget bill that cannot become law is disrespectful and disingenuous to the people that put us here,” Reives stated.

If the House and Senate do not agree on a budget bill this year, the two-year plan adopted by the legislature last year would remain for the fiscal year starting July 1.

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