Education Funding Looms Large In Budget Negotiations

May 22, 2018

Credit Brian Batista / For WUNC

More than 15,000 North Carolina teachers traveled to Raleigh last week for a teacher rally. The event brought national attention to the state’s education budget and teachers’ demands for more resources and support staff to increase student safety.

Gov. Roy Cooper and the General Assembly are at odds over how much of a raise teachers should get in the next fiscal year. Another big issue in education: school vouchers. School voucher eligibility and funding are expanding. As lawmakers start budget negotiations, questions about education loom large. Host Frank Stasio talks to Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, and Sen. Terry Van Duyn, D-Buncombe, about teacher pay, school safety, and school vouchers. Horn is on many education committees, including the House Select Committee on School Safety. Van Duyn is the Democratic Whip for the North Carolina Senate. Liz Schlemmer also joins the conversation. She is the WUNC education policy reporter.

Interview Highlights

Schlemmer on teacher pay:
There has been a rise in teacher salaries, but it's mostly been at the basement of the salary schedule. And really the issue is not just for current veteran teachers but for young teachers as they're looking forward in their career. The current salary schedule tops out around where the average is right now. So the average teacher salary is at $51,000, but that's a little bit inflated by some of the veteran teachers who've had their salaries grandfathered in from previous policies like incentives for master's pay. So for a young teacher starting out, they could end their career at $50,000. So that means the average that we're looking at right now, in a few years when some of those veteran baby boomer teachers retire, that average could really drop off a cliff.

Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, on teacher pay:
We need to raise average teacher pay. We need to raise base pay in order to attract and retain high quality teachers. We need to offer teachers opportunities to make even more money, and we've done that through advanced teacher roles and bonus programs, but there's a lot more to be done.

Teachers have been dumped on, across the board ... So I understand the frustration and part of my job is to listen, try to learn, and try to respond. - Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union

Sen. Terry Van Duyn, D-Buncombe, on teacher pay:
The governor's budget provides raises to all teachers. And he does so by forestalling the next round of tax cuts on corporations and people who make over $200,000 a year. If you really value teachers and you really value education then I think that was the point teachers were making. We need to value education again.That's in our DNA as North Carolinians. We have to switch our priorities away from tax cuts, and we've made tax cuts every year I've been in the General Assembly, and focus those dollars on getting back to where we were before the recession. Teachers are not where they were before the recession, and funding is certainly not there, and we can get there if we change our priorities.

Horn on what the Republicans’ continued funding of vouchers means for public education:
I've not lost faith in public education, nor do I believe this legislature or this majority's lost faith in public education. I think what we've come to realize is that there's no one size fits all. There's no one solution for every child, and we think that the right way to approach education is to ensure that a child finds the size that fits them, not one size fits all. We want to offer our students and our families the option to do what works best for them. That's a broad variety, a broad array of educational opportunity.

Van Duyn on vouchers:
I would agree with Representative Horn if we were fully funding our schools. And we are not fully funding our schools. We are actually taking resources away from our schools, particularly our poor schools, and so, respectfully, I agree with his objective, but I disagree with his strategy.

The problem isn't opportunity scholarships versus public schools. The problem is public schools versus tax cuts, and we need to focus on public schools. - Sen. Terry Van Duyn, D-Buncombe

Schlemmer on vouchers:
North Carolina has had vouchers for about five years now. There are three types of vouchers in the state. There's the Opportunity Scholarship that's for low-income families to attend a private school. There's the Disability Grant, which is for a student that has a documented disability. They can use that voucher either to attend a private school or for some special services, things like in-home therapy. And then the new one this year is the Education Savings Account. It's very similar in eligibility to the Disability Grant. It's for kids that have a documented disability, and they can use it to go to a private school and for special services. It's worth $9,000. These are stackable too, so some families are able to receive multiple vouchers and use them together. And then this new one, the Education Savings Account, is also open to students that are already attending private schools.