Senate budget funds teacher salaries through other ed cuts

Posted May 29, 2014

— Senate budget writers pay for a $468 million plan to boost teacher salaries by slashing other areas of the education budget, including funding for teaching assistants. 

During a news conference Wednesday, Senate leaders boasted that their spending plan would be the largest pay increase for teachers in the state's history. But they declined to say how they would fund that pay boost without a tax increase.

Budget documents released late Wednesday night give details of the spending plan and suggest that cuts to teaching assistants in early-grade classrooms will pay for roughly half of the salary plan.

Senate budge writers save $233.1 million a year by cutting funding for classroom teaching assistants in kindergarten through third grade in half. The new funding formula would effectively provide teaching assistants only in kindergarten and first grade. 

The state currently funds 16,448 teaching assistants statewide. Federal and local funds pay for another 6,800 assistants.

"How can we help them be successful if we don't have these extra hands and extra dose of instruction?" asked Carrie Scarlett, a first-grade teacher at Brentwood Elementary School in Raleigh.

Scarlett said she relies on longtime teaching assistant Kristel Osborne-Ebron to ensure no one falls through the cracks.

"They need a lot of one-on-one assistance, and teachers can't be everywhere and work with every student," Osborne-Ebron said.

Both Osborne-Ebron and Scarlett said they fear the impact of the cuts in the classroom.

"It’s very unnerving because this is my livelihood and it’s how I take care of my family," Osborne-Ebron said.

"You kind of step back and say, 'OK, how can I do this myself?'" Scarlett said. "We teach, we’re counselors, we’re parents, we’re nurses – we do everything."

Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, said school districts can use local funds to keep teaching assistants in second and third grades or shift other resources around.

"School systems were given the flexibility – already have it now from last year – to put teacher assistants and teacher money together and hire more assistants," Tillman said. "Put them wherever you want to. We're saying K-1 is the best place."

Area school districts were crunching the Senate's budget numbers Thursday to determine the local impact on their operations, but Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson and Gov. Pat McCrory immediately expressed skepticism at the Senate plan.

"These cuts will eliminate essential services for teachers and schools and leave teachers with more duties and less support," Atkinson said in a statement. "At elementary schools, the loss of teacher assistants means less time for teachers to teach and more time on bathroom duty, lunch duty and bus duty, not to mention the loss of an extra instructional assistant in the classroom."

McCrory said he is looking for a more long-term approach to teacher pay "so it’s a career as opposed to a one-time pay increase."

"We have a major difference with the Senate," he said.

Other large chunks of savings in the education arena come from the state's projection of fewer students in the classroom next year. This average daily membership, or ADM, projection allowed Senate budget writers to save $37 million because there will be fewer teachers needed. The same reduction in ADM appears to allow a $64 million cut in the funding set aside for "certified personnel."

Overall, spending on K-12 education would tick up by $66 million under the Senate budget plan over what it would have been. 

Senate leaders on Thursday will discuss the details of their public education spending plans, as well as the rest of the $21 billion budget. Advocates who had not seen the budget Wednesday were leery that gains in teacher salary would come at the cost of other educators. 

"Cutting programs and people in a system that has already been cut to the bone is not the way to go," Mark Jewell, vice president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said Wednesday when asked about the possibility teacher aides could be cut to pay for increases to teacher salaries. 

In addition to cuts, the Senate budget appears to rely heavily on savings and the anticipation that tax revenues will begin to grow modestly in the coming fiscal years to fund the teacher salaries.


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  • Shamrock May 30, 2014

    I work in a tech business and many of my co-workers are former NC teachers. Not sure the current plan is the best, but we have to do something to get and maintain good teachers.

  • Olenc Native May 30, 2014
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    Man, the Finnish people must be outraged at all those taxes! Except their not. They're very satisfied with their education system and their government in general. The Finns LOVE! big government.


  • btneast May 30, 2014

    Finland for example has free education (and luch) for all of its students from 3yo through University Nothing is "free".....the personal income tax rate in Finland is around 51%. That's just income tax.......there are lots of other taxes on top of that.

  • Wayne Rossignol May 30, 2014
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    As an educator, I resent the fact that you think can manipulate educators into being drawn in to your scheme to "try" to make yourself and collegues look good to the people of NC. I refuse to accept a raise under the conditions you propose. Cutting funds from Medicare/Medicad and then eliminating TA's from the classroom. Seriously now..... What will happen to teachers who are on the upper end of the scale after a year or two? FIRED! Your scheme will not work. SHAME ON YOU and all your republican legislators.

  • Terry Watts May 29, 2014
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    I would agree that there is disfunction is our current system and that we should emulate the better education systems used by the countries ahead of us in the Study.

    Most of those have a MORE "socialized" system of education. Finland for example has free education (and luch) for all of its students from 3yo through University. China has increased funding to their education system by 20% since 1999. In fact, most if not all of the systems that are better than ours are government run and funded systems.

    I think the larger issue with US schools failing has to do without the low regard some people have for the public education system, whether they be low-income students from parent-less homes or otherwise... YMMV...

  • miseem May 29, 2014

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    Right. Then the GOP froze everything. I can't believe you can make a statement like that in the face of overwhelming evidence that NC was in the middle of the pack pay wise just a few years ago. After 4 years of GOP control, we are 46th. How are the Dems responsible for that?

  • aggie May 29, 2014

    The legislatures are removing the privilege tax from cities, taking money back from schools and adding to teachers salaries by removing assistants. Then they say that the school systems should fund the essential assistants. Schools get the funding from the state and counties they are in. Now the state is asking for money back and stopping a revenue source for the counties to help. I really would like to know how many of their kids are in the public school system. Must not be many.

  • sisu May 29, 2014

    One of the weaknesses that we Americans have is that we think having become a "civilized" society that we are destined to remain one. If you think back over the thousands of years of history you will realize that a state of relative equality regarding human rights is pretty unique.

    We should all realize that being treated as equally valuable human beings, can, in fact, be dissolved. It is already happening. What makes people think we can't have a caste system in America? If you have the wealth, the lobbyist, the power... any such thing is possible.

    Destroying public education is a vital step in transforming this country from a land of opportunity to a playground for opportunists. If you think the Constitution will protect us you will find yourself disillusioned. Judges protect the Constitution. If we can have Citizen's United... if corporations are people... then people will surely lose their standing.

  • Brandon Parrish May 29, 2014
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    So i am in a non teaching maintence position and haven t gotten a raise in seven years.....what am i getting??......way less than 11 percent.....schools have to have support positions or maybe teachers want to do that work too......only wish i could mak. 31000 a year for 10 months of work.......try working 12 months for close to 21000 and feed your family!!!!!

  • Billy Smith May 29, 2014
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    Democrats have been paying educators what they thought they were worth.