House members and speakers at a House Appropriations Committee meeting this week urged House budget leaders not to cave to the Senate on many issues – and funding for teacher assistants in public schools was among the main topics.
The House spends about $195 million more than the Senate in the first year of the biennium on teacher assistants and $304 million in the second year, a legislative staffer told the committee.
Senators want to cut TAs in favor of hiring more teachers to lower classroom sizes.
Brian Matteson, of the General Assembly Fiscal Research Division, said the continuing resolution the state is operating under in the absence of a state budget doesn’t include $24.8 million in nonrecurring money for TAs from last year, so the money currently available for them is $351 million compared with $376 million last year.
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Rep. Larry Hall, a Durham Democrat and the House Democratic leader, latched onto that detail during the meeting.
In a news release, he proposed a substitute continuing resolution to add the $24.8 million, plus $49 million in additional funding for the UNC system and the elimination of proposed tuition increases for community college students.
Meanwhile, several speakers focused on the teacher assistant issue in the Wednesday hearing.
Julie Fogt, a first-grade teacher at North End Elementary School, said teacher assistants start and end their days driving school buses, and in between teach small groups of students struggling with reading or other subjects, among other duties.
“With instructional time in the classroom being so important, we need teacher assistants to be able to help ensure every child is receiving the education they need,” Fogt said.
James Merrill, Wake County Public Schools superintendent, said the district employs 2,306 teacher assistants who “play an invaluable role in allowing our teachers to spend more time with every student every day and reducing the adult-to-student ratio.”
Merrill said 750 teacher assistants are already working in Wake County’s year-round schools in the absence of a state budget, with money already spent on them.
He urged the House not to give in to the Senate on education spending issues.
“If we must wait until September or October, hang tough, make it worth our wait,” Merrill said.
Mary Ellis, superintendent at Union County Schools, said teacher assistants in her district have been cut from 400 to 200. The remaining assistants work to socialize kids in kindergarten, on reading and math in first and second grades and on the Read To Achieve legislation in third grade, she said.
“Please, please protect our teacher assistants. Fight the good fight,” she said.