Raleigh, N.C. — House budget writers want to provide a one-time boost to a scholarship program that helps poor students attend private schools and restore funding for driver training.
Members of the House budget committees responsible for specific subject areas met Thursday morning to review the initial proposals put forward by senior leaders. The Education Appropriations Committee oversees spending on K-12 public schools as well as community colleges and the state university system.
The budget documents rolled out Thursday morning are rough drafts of the plan and don't contain key elements. Most significantly for the education budget, any discussion of raises for teachers – either raising starting salaries or boosting pay for high-performing teachers – will be reserved for Sunday or Monday, when the full budget document rolls out. It's also possible that the chairmen of the full Appropriations Committee could make tweaks to the work done by committees before rolling out the full budget.
Among the more notable budget items reviewed by Education Appropriations on Thursday were the following:
- $1 million for a pilot program meant to help accelerate the development of charter schools. That grant program would be administered by Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, a nonprofit group that has advocated for the expansion of charter schools statewide. Grants could be worth up to $200,000, and the pilots could be located in up to 10 counties where schools have "a grade level proficiency less than or equal to fifty percent on end-of-grade and end-of-course tests."
- Bonuses of up to $2,000 for teachers whose students achieve minimum grades on Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests.
- $89 million for teacher assistants. This isn't new money but replaces lottery funding. Lottery revenues are up year-over-year, but education budget writers say they have less to work with. Staff members say they believe the difference is attributable to a loss of one-time money that was drawn from lottery proceeds last year but not available this year.
- $50 million for textbooks and "digital resources." The total annual funding for this line items would be $74.3 million if it stays as is. Loss of textbook funding has been a major complaint for public schools. The reference to "digital resources" reflects the House's desire to move toward online textbooks and other electronic learning resources.
- A one-time $6.8 million boost to the Opportunity Scholarship program, which helps K-12 students from low-income families attend private schools.
- Increasing the amount provided to families under a separate program that helps students with disabilities to attend private schools from $3,000 to $4,000 per semester.
- $26.3 million for driver education. Although budget documents rolled out Thursday show that as a one-time restoration of driver's ed funds that had been slated to be cut, staff members said the full budget would restore recurring funding for driver's education by tapping court fines and forfeitures money.
- Shifting $3.7 million from the University of North Carolina system to the community college system related to the institution of NC GAP, a program that gives guaranteed admission to UNC institutions for students who start their careers at community colleges and maintain good grades.
- Establishing a new scholarship program for college students who would be teachers in hard-to-staff schools and subjects.
- Boosting the state's need-based financial aid program for college students by $2.5 million for students who attend certain online universities.
- Limiting each UNC school to spending $1 million in taxpayer funding on fundraising activities.
Members of the committee will return to work on their budget Thursday afternoon.