Skip to content

EdNC. Essential education news. Important stories. Your voice.

Perspective | What would $300 million mean for public school teachers and students?

Voiced by Amazon Polly

The Office of State Budget Management recently announced that North Carolina likely will have more than a $1 billion surplus over the initial revenue expected for the second year of the biennium budget (2024-25). This is certainly good news given the many needs across North Carolina.

What will the surplus mean for education?

Public schools matter, and they are the heart of our communities. They are also the choice of 85% of families across North Carolina, and they are a primary contributor to our workforce and economic success.

Rather than direct some of the $1 billion surplus toward our public schools, recent reports have indicated that the legislature is instead planning to add $300 million of it to the already significant — $4.6 billion over the next decade — Opportunity Scholarship Program funding, or private school taxpayer-funded vouchers.

School vouchers are public dollars that families can apply for to use toward private school tuition. North Carolina’s school voucher program has recently become universal, with no income limitation to participate. Additionally, there is no requirement for students to have first attended public schools, nor are participating private schools required to have baseline
accountability measures in place.

As the Forum outlined in its report, “6 Recommendations to Bring Accountability and Transparency to North Carolina’s School Voucher Program,” the accountability requirements for private schools that are eligible to receive taxpayer-funded vouchers are almost non- existent. The private schools do not have to be accredited, have certified teachers, or take the state- mandated achievement tests. These schools can also deny access to families and students based upon religion, race, learning differences, achievement, or being part of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Recent studies, including those in Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, and D.C., find little evidence that school vouchers improve test scores — in fact, they’ve sometimes led to score declines. Some studies found test score declines for students moving from public schools to private schools were comparable to the declines we saw as a result of the pandemic. There are very few studies on long-term impacts.

What would $300 million mean for public school teachers and students?

Teachers are the no. 1 school-related factor that influences student outcomes. While teachers enter the field and stay for a multitude of reasons, they must be able to live and support their families. Currently, over one-third of our educators earn less than a livable wage (BEST NC, 2023). At the start of the 2023-24 school year, there were 2,840 vacancies in K-12 teaching positions across the state spanning all grade levels and subject areas, and another 744 vacant exceptional children teaching positions.

North Carolina ranked 36th in the nation in teacher pay with an average salary of $54,863 in 2021-22. Since these numbers were released, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas have all passed historic teacher raises in their most recent budgets, while North Carolina continues to fall behind. The minimum Tennessee salary will be $50,000 by 2026, and the minimum salary this year in Arkansas is already $50,000. What could $300 million mean for our public school teachers and students?

North Carolina has a significant opportunity to support the 1.4 million students in our public schools. With $300 million, the North Carolina General Assembly could make a big impact on teacher compensation in the short session. That $300 million would allow North Carolina to invest in teachers and students with additional pay raises of over 4% to every teacher in North Carolina and to the principals, assistant principals, and other instructional roles.

We would still have a long way to go, but this would be a significant investment in our students, families, schools, and our educators. Public schools matter to each and every community across North Carolina. With meaningful investments, they can continue to thrive and serve our state.

Mary Ann Wolf

Mary Ann Wolf, Ph.D. has served as President and Executive Director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina since June 2020, bringing with her more than 20 years of educational policy and leadership working directly with schools and districts across North Carolina to improve equity and build capacity for innovation.