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House drops its education budget plan

Contributed by Alex Granados

This morning, the North Carolina House discussed its education budget plan, which covers a lot of prominent issues discussed so far this session, including school-performance grades, school support positions, a virtual early learning pilot, and more.

There have been multiple bills filed this session to address school-performance grades, which some see as being unevenly weighted towards academic achievement. The budget changes the school performance grades to a 50/50 percentage split between academic achievement and academic growth. It also maintains the 15-point scale for the school performance grades.

Classroom supplies have also been a hot topic since Superintendent Mark Johnson supported a bill that would provide $400 to every teacher to purchase their own classroom supplies. While under that plan, there were no new funds, that money would come from the allotment districts get from classroom supplies — leaving only about $10 million statewide that goes directly to districts to purchase classroom supplies.

The budget includes the plan to give $400 to every teacher while also increasing funding for classroom supplies. In the first year and second year of the biennium, there is a $15 million increase to these allotments, bringing the total amount of money budgeted for classroom supplies to $62.5 million in both years of the biennium. With this increase, school districts would now have about $25 million to use for classroom supplies after every teacher in the state gets $400.

The budget also includes $1 million non-recurring for a virtual early learning pilot, which has become a controversial proposal suggested in the House over the past couple of weeks.

Also included in the budget is $1 million non-recurring for the State Board of Education to develop a weighted-student formula for school funding. This is a proposal that has been discussed for years now in the General Assembly in an effort to reform the manner in which school funding is distributed.

The special provisions of the budget includes an item that would require the State Department of Public Instruction to put out a request for proposals for groups to do an evaluation of education funding in North Carolina and to come up with alternatives to the current allotment system.

School safety has been on everybody’s mind this session as the state struggles with inadequate ratios for school support personnel. The number of counselors, nurses, psychologists, and social workers are all much lower than nationally recommended ratios.

The budget includes $19 million non-recurring in the first year and about $30 million recurring in the second year for School Mental Health Support Personnel Grants.

Other items related to school safety include:

School safety officers: $3 million non-recurring in the first year, and $7.7 million recurring in the second year.

School Safety Equipment Grants: $3 million non-recurring in the first year, and $6.1 million non-recurring in the second year

School Safety Training Grants: $3 million non-recurring in the first year, and $4.6 million recurring in the second year

Students in Crisis Grants: $2 million non-recurring in the first year, and $4.6 million recurring in the second year

Other provisions in the budget, include one that would prevent school districts from changing their school calendar “unless necessary to address a severe weather condition, energy shortage, public health crisis, school safety crisis, emergency related to a school building or school transportation, or act of God.”

Also included in the budget is a provision that prevents teachers from taking personal leave unless a substitute is available. This comes in advance of the teacher rally next week, where large numbers of teachers have been asking off from their districts to attend.

For the community college system, the budget includes $8 million in the first year and $11.5 million in the second year for short-term workforce training. The Community college system will also get $2.8 million recurring in both years for career coaches. Both of these items were part of the community college system legislative agenda.

These are just some provisions and budget items from the document released during the committee today. Teacher salaries are not included in this budget breakdown and will be presented next week. Lawmakers have until noon today to submit amendments to the education budget. The committee will reconvene at 1 p.m. as long as staff is able to complete amendments by that time.

Full House appropriations is scheduled to take up the full budget next Wednesday.

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