Raleigh, N.C. — A trio of Republican senators wants to unlock state lottery revenues to provide more money to poorer counties for school construction and to fund raises for principals and assistant principals statewide.
Senate Bill 234 would take about $75 million from the lottery for school construction and another $24.6 million for raises, and sponsors said that would be in addition to the money the lottery already provides to education in the state.
Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, said the proposal would tap lottery reserves in the short run and could double its advertising budget to bring in more revenue in the long run.
"The deteriorating condition of our rural North Carolina schools cannot be ignored any longer," Brown said during a Thursday morning news conference.
He cited a 100-year-old school in Hertford County that is plagued by bad wiring, lighting and heating, a storage room at a Gates County middle school that has extensive mold problems because the roof doesn't line up with a wall and a 75-year-old bus garage at another school district that is too small to accommodate today's school buses.
"Rural counties are struggling, and our students deserve better," he said.
The lottery already earmarks $100 million in revenue annually for school construction, but Brown noted it's doled out based on enrollment. Last year, for example, the Wake County Public School System got $10 million in lottery money for construction, while the 40 poorest districts got $11 million combined.
Noting that Hyde and Tyrrell counties in eastern North Carolina got $40,000 each, he said, "You can't even fix a roof with $40,000."
The supplemental fund would require local matching funds and would focus on the "critical deficiencies" while also taking into account a district's ability to raise additional revenue through increased sales or property taxes.
Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, said good schools are needed in rural areas to stem the economic decline many have experienced, noting that businesses looking to open new operations always check out the local schools.
"In a lot of these counties, if you fix their problem, they're fixed for 40 or 50 years, and you don't have to go back" because they have so few school facilities, Brown said.
"I come from somewhere where a new school in a community is a once-in-a-lifetime event," Hise added.
More money for school administrators
The lottery also could fund much-needed raises for school principals and assistant principals, said Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph.
"You cant have a good school without a good principal," said Tillman, a former school administrator himself.
Principals are now paid based on their years of experience, any advanced degrees and the size of their schools, he said, which he said isn't the best way to compensate the "executive of a large, complex organization."
Senate Bill 234 calls for giving each principal in the state a one-time $2,600 bonus in the 2017-18 school year and creating a bonus pool for each school district that the superintendent can use for principals who improve school performance, discipline, morale and appearance. Principals could earn up to $5,000 a year.
The pay for assistant principals would be set at 13 percent above the best-paid teachers in the state, Tillman said, to ensure that they always make more than the people they supervise.