North Carolina Senate Republican leaders want to change how teachers buy their classroom supplies and make sure that students know about personal finance before they can graduate from high school.
Senate GOP leaders on Tuesday unveiled details of their spending plan for the next two years. In addition to providing raises for teachers and school support staff, the budget has a number of education-related “special provisions” that will impact the state’s 1.5 million public school students.
The Senate plans to approve the budget this week and then work through a compromise with the House, which adopted its budget plan earlier this month. The Republican-led legislature will then take the budget to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who could veto it to get more changes.
The Senate budget would require school districts to provide $300 to each teacher to use to purchase classroom supplies. Teachers would use an app like ClassWallet to make purchases and/or get reimbursed for what they’ve bought.
The initial Senate plan called for providing each teacher with $400 while not providing any additional state money for supplies. But the Senate budget reduced the amount to $300 per teacher while increasing state funding for supplies by $15 million to about $62.5 million a year.
The House budget also provided a $15 million increase, but capped the amount per teacher to $145 so that the program would be paid for only out of the new money. This came after school districts complained that the initial Senate plan would leave them with not enough money to cover costs that are used by multiple teachers, such as paying for copiers.
Supporters of the new program say it empowers teachers to get the supplies they need. But Sen. Rick Horner, a Nash County Republican, said Tuesday that even with the increased funding the budget would leave districts with $13.7 million less for supplies.
Sen. Jerry Tillman, an Archdale Republican and co-chairman of the Senate Education Appropriations Committee, said the budget will leave districts enough money to meet their central office needs.
Personal finance class
The Senate budget mirrors the House plan in now requiring high school students to pass an economics and personal finance course as one of their four required social studies classes.
The new course would include lessons on paying for college, home mortgages, credit scores, car loans, managing credit cards and “the true cost of credit,” the News & Observer previously reported. Supporters say that the course is needed because student debt is rising.
But critics say that they’re already teaching about personal finance in the existing civics course. Critics also say that lawmakers could force the State Board of Education to eliminate one of the two required U.S. history courses to squeeze in the new finance class.
Three more North Carolina colleges and universities could be added to a program to train future teachers.
The Senate mirrors the House budget in expanding the number of University of North Carolina schools and private institutions in the N.C. Teaching Fellows to eight programs. Teaching Fellows provides scholarships to people who want to teach in the fields of science, technology, engineering, math or special education.
Some have complained about how the program now only has five schools, none of whom are historically black colleges and universities. The budget directs the N.C. Teaching Fellows Commission to choose a “diverse selection” of schools for the program.
“Those concerns have been expressed and have been communicated,” said Sen. Deanna Ballard, a Watauga County Republican and co-chair of the Senate Education Appropriations Committee.
Some financial relief could be coming to lower-income families who pay for the cost of school lunches.
The Senate budget includes $3 million to pay for the 40 cents per meal charged to students who qualify for reduced-price lunches. The budget would cover the costs for reduced-price lunch students who attend schools participating in the National School Lunch program.
Points of disagreement
There are some differences between the Senate and House plans that could be negotiated on as part of the compromise budget. Differences include:
▪ The Senate budget does not include restrictions on the ability of teachers to take personal leave days to participate in protests on school days such as the mass rallies held for the past two years in Raleigh.
▪ The Senate budget would not include a requirement that students take an art class between middle school and high school to graduate.
▪ The Senate budget does not include $1 million to start a virtual preschool program.