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General Assembly approves teacher raises, private school vouchers in new budget

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The Legislative Building located in Raleigh houses North Carolina's General Assembly.

The N.C. General Assembly passed the 2023-25 state budget on Sept. 22 after months of debate among Republican leaders about where state funds should be allocated.

The budget, which totals over $30 billion, was originally scheduled to pass before July 1 — the start of the current fiscal year. Some of the biggest provisions in the budget include Medicaid expansion, tax cuts and increased salaries for state employees. 

One of the biggest effects this budget has on North Carolina is in education, N.C. Sen. Graig Meyer (D-Caswell, Orange, Person) said.

“Education is the single largest portion of the budget,” Meyer said. 

The legislature increased pay by an average of about seven percent for teachers in North Carolina over the next two years. There will be no changes in small and low wealth county signing bonuses for teachers, and principals will get a four percent raise.

Sara Howell, the policy program manager at the Public School Forum of North Carolina, said the increase in pay may not be as beneficial as it seems. 

She said early career teachers may earn more than a seven percent raise because of the budget's salary schedule, while teachers who have worked in the state for 15 to 24 years may see raises of about three percent over two years.

“That average seven percent number can be misleading as well because there are much higher raises included for early career teachers,” Howell said.

Meyer said teacher pay in the state is still below the national average, and that the seven percent raise was less than the cost of inflation.

“We'll continue to see teachers falling behind the cost of inflation and falling behind private sector wages,” Meyer said.

Another portion of the 625-page budget was the Republican vote to take the limit off of private school vouchers in the state — through the approval of the Opportunity Scholarship program.

For the 2023-24 fiscal year, the budget appropriates $87 million to the Opportunity Scholarship program, meaning it is now possible for a family at any income level to receive a voucher to send their children to private schools, Meyer said.

"Opportunity scholarships, or private school vouchers as they're more commonly known, will become universal in North Carolina and we're one of only a handful of states that will have that," Howell said.

One of the other changes is the movement of governance of the community college system — including appointments to the State Board of Community Colleges and each community college's local board of trustees — to the General Assembly.

“That's a pretty big shift and a pretty significant consolidation of power by the General Assembly,” N.C. Rep. Allen Buansi (D-Orange) said.

One provision Howell said she would have wanted to see in the budget was the reinstatement of master's pay for teachers. North Carolina's master’s pay program was eliminated in 2013.

Since then, she said she and the Public School Forum have been lobbying for teachers with a master's degree to receive a bump in pay.

Buansi said the budget also failed to provide sufficient financial support for mental health resources in schools. 

“There's a shortage of folks around the state, especially school counselors and other mental health professionals, who can really help our young people, but this budget really falls short of that objective,” Buansi said. 

Meyer and Buansi both said they would have liked to see more money aimed at school repairs.

"We should be investing money in taking care of our school facilities," Meyer said.

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@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com 

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