The North Carolina House and Senate have agreed on a state budget for 2013-2015. The $20.6 billion state budget invests in core services, streamlines state government, strengthens public education, and grows North Carolina's economy. I would like to speak specifically to the education portion of the state government, since there have been so many "sky is falling" letters to the editor recently.
The bottom line is that this budget spends more on education than any other budget in North Carolina's history. It increases K-12 spending when compared to actual spending from 2011- 2013. The amount spent on education programs will increase by $400 million next year. Total spending on public schools, community colleges, and universities amounts to $11.5 billion (more than half the entire state budget) and of that, $7.9 billion will go to K-12 education. That is up from $7.7 billion spent last year (an increase of 2.1 percent) and the nearly $7.3 billion spent two years ago. I would also point out that this budget spends millions more on education than the last budget passed under Democrat control.
The budget will fully fund enrollment growth in K-12, community colleges and universities. It continues to fund the Excellent Public Schools Act, which strengthens student literacy, improves graduation rates and increases accountability (last year the North Carolina high school graduation rate surpassed 80 percent — a first in the state's history and a 12 point jump from 6 years ago). And as we learned this week, graduation rates rose again this year to their highest levels ever in NC. This budget introduces a merit based system of teacher pay, based on job performance, and will begin to phase out the outdated tenure system. It will fund annual pay raises for the excellence of effective teachers. It also funds critical school safety measures, such as resource officers, and expands the use of technology and innovation. This budget will provide for teacher pay raises (as soon as Medicaid overruns are brought under control) as did the last budget when teachers were given a 1.2 percent raise.
Overall, education accounts for more than 50 percent of the $20.6 billion budget for the entire state. This budget spends more money on education than has ever been spent on education in North Carolina. Our state legislators have worked hard, and we should be proud and support them.
Joyce Roberts — Franklin, N.C.