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Three budgets, three sets of priorities

Now that the Governor, House and Senate have all released their spending plans, let’s take a look at how the three proposed versions of the revised 2016-17 budget compare when it comes to education.

Governor Pat McCrory came out with his recommended budget in April, followed by the House in May, then the Senate in June. Once negotiations are finished, a final budget will be proposed and voted on.

Teacher pay

The Governor’s version of the budget increases teacher pay by an average of 5 percent, raising the average teacher salary to more than $50,000. Veteran teachers would be prioritized. Teachers with more than 24 years of experience would receive a one-time $5,000 bonus. All other teachers would receive a $1,000 one-time bonus.

The Governor’s recommended budget also includes an average 3.5 percent bonus for principals and assistant principals.

The House is proposing an average 4.1 percent increase in teacher pay, spending about an additional $161 million in recurring funds and about $35.5 million in non-recurring funds. That would raise the average teacher salary to $50,000 in two years.

Pay raises in the House’s proposal depend on experience. Teachers with less than five years of experience would not receive a raise, but would get a $1,000 bonus. Teachers with more than 25 years of experience would receive both a 2 percent raise and a $1,000 bonus. The largest raises would go to teachers in between.

The House’s version of the budget would give a 2 percent salary raise for principals and assistant principals on the salary schedule. Others would receive a $500 bonus.

The Senate’s recommended budget proposes the highest average pay increase for teachers — 6.5 percent. It would spend about $280 million in recurring funds to pay for those raises.

The Senate wants to spend $10 million for a two-year program that gives bonuses to the top 25 percent of both statewide and district 3rd grade teachers based on their students’ growth in reading comprehension. Their growth would be measured by the EVAAS assessment system.

The Senate’s proposed budget would also give a one-time bonus of $2,000 to principals and $500 to assistant principals.

Teacher recruitment

In order to recruit 300 new math and science teachers to the state, the governor’s budget would spend $2 million.

The House, in a controversial move, eliminated a provision from last session that included about $27 million to hire extra first-grade teachers with the plan to reduce class sizes. Instead, they want to spend $25 million for literacy coaches to support Read to Achieve in the state’s lowest performing elementary schools.

Rep. Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke, said the coaches will hopefully do more for student achievement than a one-student reduction in class size.

The Senate, on the other hand, wants to spend about $27 million for second-grade teacher positions, decreasing the teacher to student ratio by one student: to 1 to 16.

Supplies & digital materials

The Governor’s budget puts a focus on the state’s digital learning plan, proposing $29 million from lottery funds. Of those funds, $26.4 million would be spent on digital content and resources in classrooms, while the rest would go towards teaching educators and implementing the plan.

The Governor proposes an additional $10 million for classroom supplies and equipment.

The House wants to spend about $12 million for K-12 textbooks and digital materials, while the Senate proposes about $9.2 million. The Senate’s funds would switch from recurring to non-recurring.

A-F School Grading System

Although the Governor’s proposed budget does not mention the A-F School Performance Grades, the House and Senate have quite different visions of how the grading process should work.

The House’s version maintains a 15-point scale while the Senate proposes changing to a 10-point scale. This matters because the number of low performing schools in the state, which right now is 581, would likely rise on a 10-point scale.

The House also wants to change the ratio that calculates a school’s grade from 80 percent school achievement, 20 percent school academic growth to an even 50-50. The Senate proposes leaving the ratio the same.

Here’s an interactive look at the distribution of school performance grades based on different grading scales and ratios.

Principal preparation program

The Governor’s proposed budget would make no changes since the original 2016-17 budget’s $1 million appropriation to the Principal Preparation Program, which would help train teachers who want to become principals.

The House wants to give an additional $7.5 million to the program. And the Senate would completely eliminate the program.

Other highlights

The House’s budget would keep the acceptable withdrawal rate from virtual charter schools at 25 percent or less. The rate was changed to 35 percent during the first stages of the House’s budget, but was narrowly reversed because of an amendment proposed by Rep. James Langdon, R-Johnston.

This is important because virtual charters have been experiencing high rates of withdrawal rates since they opened.

The Senate is proposing an additional 2,000 opportunity scholarships to students starting in 2017-18 and wants to increase funds to the program by $10 million each year for 11 years. This fiscal year, there is about $35 million in opportunity scholarship funding. That number would jump to almost $145 million by 2027-28.

The House proposes spending an extra $5.8 million in recurring money for a 137 percent increase in funding of special education opportunity scholarships.

Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.