Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget makes targeted investments in education but cuts spending on UNC campuses and on teacher assistant positions in second and third grades.
Students could feel the pain, too. Community college students and out-of-state students in the UNC system would pay higher tuition bills under the governor’s spending plan.
All three sectors – public schools, community colleges and the UNC system – would have less money to spend than in the current year. The governor also wants to shift funding to initiatives he deems as higher priority.
McCrory’s plan would spend $52.4 million over the next two years to add 5,000 slots for at-risk children in the state’s pre-kindergarten program. It would add 1,800 full-time teachers, while cutting funding for teacher assistants except in kindergarten and first grade. At the same time, the ratio of teacher assistants to students would improve in the classrooms of the youngest learners.
Public school teachers, like other state employees, would receive a 1 percent raise.
“There are some positives in this budget, including a 1 percent start on addressing teacher pay, but its overall impact will be less funding for public schools and our teacher salary issue will remain a problem,” state Superintendent June Atkinson said in a statement Wednesday. “This is unfortunate. On teacher salaries alone, North Carolina’s competitive edge is gone and we are losing quality teachers every day because neighbor states offer better pay.”
McCrory said the budget would fulfill a promise “to empower our teachers and help our students succeed.”
On cutting teacher assistants, the governor said “this is a very difficult choice” but stressed that having more certified teachers would improve education across the state.
About McCrory’s tradeoff between more teachers but fewer teaching assistants, Atkinson said, “I wish he did not have to face such choices.”
In higher education, McCrory would partially pay for the UNC system’s new strategic plan, which focuses on efficiency while increasing the percentage of North Carolinians with a four-year degree. He proposes spending $63 million over two years to implement the UNC strategy.
But to do it, the governor imposes another round of budget cutting on UNC campuses and a tuition increase of 12.3 percent for out-of-state students on six high-demand campuses, including UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State University. The tuition hikes would bring in an estimated $63 million the first year.
The net reduction would be nearly $139 million next year, or a 5.4 percent decrease in appropriated support, said UNC Chief Operating Officer Charles Perusse. When adding revenue from tuition increases into the mix, the overall reduction would be 2.9 percent, he said.
UNC President Tom Ross said the university system is committed to operating more efficiently and recognizes the state’s fiscal challenges. But he also was disappointed.
“I am very concerned by the magnitude of the new cuts proposed for our campuses, particularly in light of the more than $400 million in permanent budget reductions we absorbed two years ago,” Ross said in a statement. “I worry about the impact additional reductions will have on our ability to provide high-quality educational opportunities to our residents and to assist in North Carolina’s economic recovery.”
For community colleges, the governor proposes spending more on technical education equipment and higher-cost degree programs in areas of market demand.
But the community college system, which has seen a slight decline in students since the recession, would suffer a $20 million loss in money for enrollment. Full-time degree students would pay $32 more a year, while out-of-state students would see a $128 increase.
“The devil is always in the details,” said Scott Ralls, president of the community college system. “For us some of the details create some real challenges.”
He said he is glad to see spending boosts for technical education and incentives for the 58 community colleges.
“The challenge for us is while it does fund some key priorities, next year the majority of our colleges would have less funding than they did last year and all of our students would pay increases in tuition, as well as continuing education fees,” Ralls said.
Staff writer John Frank contributed to this report.