We’ve all heard the dire predictions about the Republicanpassed budget: “They’re going to decimate the whole public education system in this state!” and “This proposed budget will set back this state 25 years!” and “Cuts near this magnitude will dramatically eviscerate the ability of this state to provide a constitutionally- sound education to all of the students of our state!”
Do those claims sound familiar? They should — they’re from over two years ago. On Feb. 24, 2011, Democrat representatives Mickey Michaux, Rick Glazier, and Ray Rapp all clucked that under the Republican budget the sky was falling. Former Governor Perdue warned that 20,000 teachers would be fired, class size would double, and the Republican budget would “result in generational damage” to North Carolina’s public schools.
But none of it happened. Not only were all our teaching positions fully funded, but according to the Department of Public Instruction’s own figures, North Carolina’s public schools actually added 3,198 state-funded education jobs this school year — and 7,811 total teaching jobs since Republicans have held the majority in the General Assembly. And significant education reforms enacted over the last two years have already begun bearing fruit: last year, North Carolina’s high school graduation rate surpassed 80 percent – a first in the state’s history and a 12-point jump from six years ago.
It’s shameful how the hyper-partisan teachers union — the largest and most organized group of paid lobbyists in the state — and their mouthpieces in the media continue to scare hard-working teachers and parents with wild claims that never seem to materialize. Let’s cut through the wild rhetoric and look at the facts.
“I heard on the news last week that you cut education by half a billion dollars!”
Nope. The amount spent on education programs will actually increase by $400 million next year. Total spending on public schools, community colleges, and universities amounts to $11.5 billion (that’s more than half of the entire state budget) and of that, $7.9 billion will go to K-12 education. That figure is up from the $7.7 billion we spent last year on K-12 (an increase of 2.1%) and the nearly $7.3 billion spent two years ago.
This year’s state budget will spend more money on public education in North Carolina than we have ever spent.
Source: Current Operations and Capital Improvements Appropriations Act of 2013 (Senate Bill 402) and the North Carolina General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division’s report “North Carolina Public Schools Expenditures, FY 2003-04 to FY 2011- 12.”
“But this week, the newspaper said that the increase isn’t even enough to keep pace with inflation or the growth in the number of students.”
The new budget keeps pace with both inflation and the growth in the number of students: economists forecast inflation at 1.5 percent for the coming year and the Department shows stable growth in student enrollment — averaging about a half percent over the last five years. That’s a total of two percent, which is about where we are in terms of the increase in K-12 appropriations over what it was last year. So when you look at it from that perspective, by fully keeping pace with growth, K-12 essentially breaks even next school year.
“I hear we rank near the bottom in terms of how much we spend per student. What about the children?”
According to the most recent data compiled by the National Education Association (page 55, Chart H-11), North Carolina taxpayers spend $8,757 on each student per year, something bureaucrats call “per-pupil expenditure.” New York state spends the most at $18,616 per-pupil; New Mexico ranks in the middle of the pack at $10,203 per-pupil; and Arizona spends the least at $6,683 perpupil. The report puts North Carolina at 45th. Sounds terrible, right?
What the partisan media doesn’t tell you is that North Carolina public schools receive among the highest percentages of their funding from state dollars, ranking 11th in the nation and second in the Southeast (according to that same DPI report).
In the U.S., K-12 education is funded by three sources: federal dollars, state dollars, and local dollars. Here in North Carolina, the federal government provides only about 16 percent of K-12 funding, with state government picking up most of the tab at 60.1 percent. Local governments contribute less than a quarter of the cost of educating our children.
State, federal, and local funds combined, North Carolina spends approximately $12 billion on K-12 education every year — and that does not include the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on school buildings and the debt used to build and maintain them.
In other states, education is funded primarily by local governments — with property taxes and bonds — and not with state dollars, as we do in North Carolina. The fact remains that our county and city governments could choose to spend more on educating our children, but they don’t.
“So where does all that state money go?”
According to the DPI report, of the $7.2 billion the state spent two years ago on K-12 programs, 90 percent of the entire amount goes to pay teachers and administrators and provide them benefits. This figure doesn’t include the tens of billions of additional dollars the state pays out to retired teachers and administrators in monthly guaranteed pension checks and lifetime healthcare benefits. “But why did you cut teacher pay?” Contrary to rumors spread by liberal advocacy groups, teacher pay has not been cut. Period.
“But you couldn’t give teachers at least a one percent raise?”
The legislature sets the base pay for public school teachers in North Carolina. The actual pay level for teachers is determined at the local level. Local governments can always decide to pay teachers more.
But local governments seem to have other priorities than our teachers. For example, in the City of Asheville, the unelected school board gave its retiring superintendent a gift of $175,000. City school board members were under no obligation to pay him anything (he wasn’t owed a buyout payment because he quit his job). That $175,000 gift for a retiring administrator (that’s on top of his generous monthly pension) could have equated to an additional $875 in pay for every teacher in Asheville. (Note: most school superintendents in North Carolina make in excess of $100,000 in annual salary, not including benefits and pension.)
Curiously, also in Asheville, its City Council just voted to give $2 million to a non-profit group that runs a local art museum. That $2 million could have been spent giving every one of Asheville’s teachers an additional $1,000 annual pay raise — every year for the next ten years.
Local governments could do more, but they don’t. And they escape accountability in the media by blaming Raleigh.
Last year the General Assembly did give teachers a small bump in their base pay — 1.2 percent and the first one in four years. But there’s a good reason there wasn’t a pay raise this year: it wouldn’t have been financially responsible. It didn’t get widely reported in the media, but this year the General Assembly had to plug a $500 million budget hole created by unexpected Medicaid cost overruns, and wasn’t able to do as much as most legislators wanted to. With nearly 100,000 active teachers and nearly 1,800 central office administrators in North Carolina’s public schools, every one percent raise equates to an extra $180 million in spending — and after paying for the Medicaid cost overruns, there just weren’t any taxpayer dollars left to spend.
What has gone unreported is that the state budget does include a reserve fund for future pay raises for both teachers and state employees. If there isn’t another surprise, House leaders have said that teacher pay raises will be their top priority next year.
“How have the teachers pay raises compared to other state employees?”
North Carolina’s teachers have done markedly better than other state employees in terms of pay raises. Over the past 20 years, base salary increases for North Carolina’s public school teachers have far outpaced other state employees:
While there is no raise for teachers this year, everyone (including teachers) will see larger paychecks. Thanks to this year’s tax reform efforts, everyone’s take-home pay will increase because we’ll all be paying less in state taxes.
“But the bottom line is that teachers just don’t make enough.”
According to the teachers union, the average annual salary for a North Carolina teacher is $45,947. But like with any job, you can’t just look at base salary — you really have to look at the entire compensation package. In addition to their base salary of $45,947, a teacher receives an average of $4,931 in health insurance benefits, $5,383 in state pension benefits, and $3,139 in Social Security contributions. That’s a total annual compensation package of $59,400 — for working ten months out of the year.
“How does this compare to what other people make?”
When you divide a teacher’s base salary (not including benefits) of $45,947 by the total number of weeks actually spent working (44), you get an average weekly wage of $1,044. According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average weekly wage across North Carolina is just $673.
This $673 weekly state average wage includes the relatively higher wages in Durham County ($1,225) and Mecklenburg County ($1,103). But the $1,044 average weekly wage of teachers in North Carolina is significantly higher (in most cases $400 higher) than 98 of the 100 counties in the entire state.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“I read on Twitter that the General Assembly increased class size. Is that true?”
Not exactly. The General Assembly removed the one-size-fits-all class size mandate and gave the authority to make these decisions back to the local school district, where it belongs. Local teachers, principals, and superintendents have a much better sense of where available resources should be focused. By selectively increasing class size, for instance, a superintendent might be able to hire an additional teacher if she decides that’s the best fit for her students. This efficient targeting of resources and enhanced flexibility will help protect programs that individual districts consider more essential.
“What is the average class size in North Carolina?”
According to the latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics, North Carolina’s average class size was 19 for elementary students and 21 for secondary students. Both are lower than the national average of 20 and 23, respectively.
“I heard that you guys ended teacher tenure. That’s why most people enter the teaching profession in the first place!”
Ending guaranteed lifetime tenure is a way to ensure that only the best teachers are hired and retained. Tenure for public school teachers doesn’t work the same way it does in higher education, where a professor must wait ten years and then be approved by a majority of his or her academic peers. Under the tenure system in North Carolina, a teacher automatically received guaranteed lifetime tenure after just four years.
In order to keep their tenured status, teachers in North Carolina only needed to receive satisfactory evaluations in just one year out of three. For example, a teacher could receive failing back-to-back evaluations in years one and two — but if they could show adequate improvement in year three, the clock would be reset and their tenure would continue.
Not surprisingly, the system has been abused in many ways, stifling excellence in our classrooms. It also typically took nearly ten years to remove poor teachers from North Carolina’s public schools because of the exhaustive paperwork required, the bureaucratic entanglements, and lengthy court appeals. The teacher tenure system was so broken that only 17 of North Carolina’s 97,184 teachers were fired for cause last year.
The budget replaces this outdated tenure system with a contract system based on job performance and the best teachers will be rewarded through a merit pay system. There is $10.2 million in the budget to reward high-performing teachers with $500 bonuses. These measures will better ensure quality instruction by identifying ineffective teachers who need to be retrained or replaced.
“Why did you end the extra pay for teachers with master’s degrees?”
The budget does phase-out new pay supplements for teachers who earn a master’s degree, unless that advanced degree is required for their position. If a teacher is already collecting this extra pay, or their master’s degree will be completed by April 1, 2014, they will be grandfathered in and will still collect that supplement. It’s important to note that other state employees don’t get raises just for earning a master’s degree.
Interestingly, research has shown that teacher performance and student outcomes have no bearing on attaining an advanced degree. According to the Center for American Progress, a liberal research and advocacy organization, “teachers with master’s degrees … are no more effective, on average, than their counterparts without master’s degrees.”
“What about these vouchers I’m hearing about? My tax money will go to send kids to private school?”
Yes. The budget expands school choice in North Carolina by creating a new pilot program that awards “opportunity scholarships” to 2,000 low-income students in the 2014-15 school year. Only those children who already qualify for the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch program would be eligible for the grants.
Locally-based private scholarships have worked very well in North Carolina, and the Opportunity Scholarship Act aims at replicating these successes at the state level. For example, the Charlotte Children’s Scholarship Fund, which benefits low-income and predominantly African-American children, saw student performance in reading and math increase by six percentage points after just one year in the program.
As we’ve seen, it costs $8,757 a year to educate a child in North Carolina. Opportunity Scholarship grants for 2014-2015 will be in the amount of $4,200 — leaving $4,557 additional money back in the public school and relieving them of the burden of educating the child.
A number of significant new reforms have been enacted. Among some of the highlights:
The budget provides funding to implement critical school safety measures, such as resource officers, and expands the use of technology and innovation in schools. The budget also adds $23.6 million to continue funding the Excellent Public Schools Act, which will strengthen student literacy, improve graduation rates and increase accountability. Tuition for out-of-state students at our public universities has been increased in order to keep tuition more affordable for North Carolina families. And the State Board of Education is now required to work with community colleges to create specific programs in high schools (e.g. engineering, technology and other high-employment vocational fields) to better prepare young adults for employment.
Although we might disagree on how to get there, we all want only the best for North Carolina’s students. To be sure, change can be uncomfortable, especially for institutional bureaucracies and certain entrenched liberal special interest groups. But by moving forward together, we can give our students even more opportunities to grow and prosper so they are prepared to lead our state to a brighter future.