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Senate budget proposal and other bills to know about at the General Assembly

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As the House budget proposal made its way through the chamber this week, the Senate unexpectedly released its own proposal, “Adjustments to the 2023 Appropriations Act,” on Wednesday night.

There is a Republican supermajority this session, meaning Republicans will drive fiscal and policy decisions. However, leaders from the chambers have some conflicting budget priorities.

The main education provision of the Senate’s 46-page budget bill is additional funding for private school vouchers through the Opportunity Scholarship program, which was also included in the House’s proposal. Unlike the House proposal, the Senate budget does not include the restoration of master’s pay for teachers or an increase in pay for state and school employees.

The 2023 budget added $250 million to the Opportunity Scholarship Grant Reserve and removed all income eligibility requirements for recipients starting with the 2024-25 school year.

However, a waitlist for the program for the next school year meant that many higher-income students would not access the grant funds. An April press release from the Senate said “it is estimated that more than 54,800 applicants are on the waitlist.”

In May, the Senate passed a bill that would eliminate the waitlist for Opportunity Scholarships, allocating roughly an additional $463 million to the program over the next two years.

Budget writers from both the House and Senate budget say their plan would fully fund the waitlist.

The Senate budget would add $248 million to the program, which would go toward private school vouchers in the 2024-2025 school year. The proposal would also provide $215 million additional funds to the Opportunity Scholarship Grant Fund Reserve to increase the number of Opportunity Scholarship awards available beginning next year, in FY 2025-26.

The proposal would also further increase the reserve appropriations moving forward.

Screenshot from Senate budget proposal.

The Senate’s proposal would also allocate an additional $24.7 million to the Personal Education Student Accounts for Children with Disabilities (PESA) Program.

Unlike the House budget, the Senate’s proposal does not include any additional raises for school employees during FY 2024-25. This means the raises approved last long session will stand.

The 2023 budget gave larger raises to beginning teachers, with raises decreasing with years of experience. Those base salary raises range from 3.6 to 10.8% over the biennium. Most other school employees will receive a 7% raise over the biennium, or a 3% raise in FY 2024-25.

You can view the Senate’s proposed salary schedules for teachers and principals starting on page 12 of the proposal.

On Wednesday night, House Speaker Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, told reporters that while there are many “shared priorities” between the House and Senate, there are still “key differences.” Those differences include additional raises for teachers and state employees, the News & Observer reported.

Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, has said the House wants to spend too much money, and that North Carolina already has an enacted budget for FY 2024-25.

The Senate and House must work together to pass an updated budget. If the General Assembly does not pass an updated budget, the biennial budget enacted in 2023 will stand.

“The House budget funds critical needs like child care, Opportunity Scholarships, and raises for our teachers and state employees,” Moore said in a Thursday press release. “I am proud that this budget has received bipartisan support in our chamber.”

You can read EdNC’s analysis of the House proposal in the article below.

You can read more about the Senate proposal, as well as other education bills at the General Assembly, in the headings below.

Early education and child care

The Senate budget proposal allocates $136.5 million in one-time funding to extend compensation grants to child care providers for one year at a reduced rate.

This funding would replace federal pandemic relief providers have reported they will struggle to remain open, affordable, and staffed without. That federal funding is set to expire at the end of June.

Child care facilities, on average, were receiving $12,452 per quarter in compensation grants in April, according to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). The funding in the proposal would support 75% of the current grant amount.

The proposal does not include other asks from advocates, like additional funding for NC Pre-K, Smart Start, the state’s subsidy program, or the Tri-Share pilot. Summer Tonizzo, DHHS spokesperson, said the amount of funding in both the House and Senate proposals will not adequately support access to care.

“While both the House and Senate budgets provide some funding for stabilization grants, they both lack the funding needed to fully support child care and the early education system, including funding for subsidy and NC Pre-K,” the statement reads. “The amount provided for stabilization grants will only cover approximately 3 quarters of the year.”

The Senate proposal did not include deregulatory efforts included in the House plan that would get rid of child care programs’ quality rating as a factor that determines how much programs receive in the state’s subsidy program. Tonizzo said the department backs this exclusion.

“A difference is that the Senate budget does support quality child care by not including House budget language that decouples QRIS Star Rating from the Child Care Subsidy Calculation,” the DHHS statement continues.

Advocates from the NC Early Education Coalition also applauded the Senate plan for not including the measure.

“We are pleased to see that the Senate budget proposal does not include the very concerning deregulatory measures included in the House budget that would impact the quality and safety of child care across the state,” a coalition newsletter read. “It is critical that we make sure this year’s final budget does not include those policies.”

You can read more about the child care components in the House proposal in the article below.

Community colleges

This short session, the N.C. Community College System’s (NCCCS) primary legislative request is money for Propel NC, the system’s new funding model proposal. The request includes a nearly $100 million price tag for FY 2024-25.

Neither the House nor Senate proposals include the phrase, “Propel NC,” but both address the request.

Both proposals include $18.5 million in recurring funds for “funding parity.”

The Senate budget says these funds will “create funding parity between Workforce Continuing Education (WCE) and Curriculum programs. Funds provided for this purpose shall be used to increase the budget full-time equivalent formula values for applicable WCE programs in the current funding model.”

The budget does not include funds to increase base funding, which is also part of the Propel NC request.

However, it does include $6 million in nonrecurring funds to establish an enrollment increase reserve to “be allocated to community colleges with eligible enrollment increases that exceed budgeted enrollment levels.”

On years when the system as a whole generates excess receipts, the House proposal would also allow excess tuition receipts to return to the college which generated them. The Senate proposal does not include this provision.

Screenshot from Senate budget proposal.

Both the House and Senate proposals include $83.7 million (including receipts) to the NCCCS based on enrollment changes. The House budget says enrollment “increased by 13,770 full-time equivalent (FTE) students, or 6.1%, compared to the amount budgeted for FY 2023-24.”

The Senate proposal does not include additional funding for workforce initiatives or employee pay.

Other education bills to know about

House Bill 207, Discipline Changes, was passed by the Senate on Thursday with additional amendments from the House’s version. The act “allows for written accounts for incidents that may result in short-term or long-term suspensions” and “makes changes to the short-term suspension process.”

According to the bill: “Except as authorized in this section, no short-term suspension shall be imposed upon a student without first providing the student an opportunity for an informal hearing with the principal.”

House Bill 237, Various Criminal and Election Law Changes, was passed on June 11 and sent to the governor. Among other things, the bill increases punishments for people who wear a mask while committing a crime.

The original version of the bill removed a pandemic-era health exemption for wearing a mask in public. The ratified version of the bill now includes the following exemption: “Any person wearing a medical or surgical grade mask for the purpose of preventing the spread of contagious disease.”

The bill says that anyone wearing a mask for health reasons “shall (i) remove the mask upon request by a law enforcement officer or (ii) temporarily remove the mask upon request by the owner or occupant of public or private property where the wearer is present to allow for identification of the wearer.”

House Bill 834, Juvenile Justice Modifications, was vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper on June 14. Among other things, the bill would modify the definition of delinquent juvenile, change the transfer process for indicted juvenile cases, and create a new process to remove a case to juvenile court.

The bill would mean that more teenagers who commit serious crimes would automatically be charged in adult court.

“Most violent crimes, even when committed by teenagers, should be handled in adult court,” Cooper said in his veto. “However there are cases where sentences would be more effective and appropriate to the severity of the crime for teenagers if they were handled in juvenile court, making communities safer. This bill makes this important option highly unlikely.”

House Bill 991, Alternative Licensure Pathway/CTE High School, was referred to the House education committee in May. The bill would change the way teachers are licensed for Career and Technical Education (CTE) instruction in high schools across the state.

The bill would allocate $10,000 to the Department of Public Instruction to conduct a study on the current licensure requirements for CTE teachers, and then make recommendations on an alternative or modified path to licensure.

Senate Bill 90, originally titled Searches of Student’s Person, was substituted to “make additional changes to facilitate the transition of the Schools for the Deaf and Blind to governance by Boards of Trustees.” Those schools are currently governed the State Board of Education.

House Bill 97 was recently updated with a substitute that includes multiple technical changes for statutes impacting community colleges. That bill also directs the State Board of Community Colleges to “conduct a competitive solicitation, including a request for information or a request for proposals, to provide a learning management system to all community colleges. The competitive solicitation shall be completed by April 1, 2025.”

Hannah Vinueza McClellan

Hannah McClellan is EducationNC’s senior reporter and covers education news and policy, and faith.

Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.