Proposed state budget would give more families money for private school vouchers

By Shamarria Morrison

September 21, 2023

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A new budget proposed by Republican leaders in the General Assembly includes billions of dollars impacting North Carolina schools.  

Some highlights of the budget include teacher pay raises, a private school voucher expansion, and delays in controversial laws. 

The proposed state budget shows an average 7% increase in teacher pay for the next two years. For a beginning teacher that's an extra $2,000. It raises a new teacher's pay from $37,000 to $39,000. 

“I really think it needs to be more," Jennifer De La Jara, a CMS school board member said. "North Carolina is ranked 46th in the nation in educator pay. And in order for us to be able to attract and retain teachers, one of the things that we can do is value their service to our community, and ultimately, our workforce.”

The National Education Association showed teachers in Carolinas have some of the lowest starting salaries in the country. According to the teacher’s advocacy organization, North Carolina ranks 46th in the country for starting pay and South Carolina ranks 40th.

The North Carolina House wanted to give teachers an average 10.2% raise over the next two years. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper proposed an 18% raise. 

The proposed increase in the budget gets lower for veteran teachers, those raises can be as low as 2%. 

“Many of our teachers come in, they work 3-to-5 years, and then they're leaving us. So I would like to see a greater emphasis placed on the value of veteran teachers," De La Jara said. 

RELATED: New report ranks the Carolinas as some of the lowest in starting teacher pay

Master’s pay not in budget 

Previously North Carolina had a provision in it's budget to supplement teachers who earned a master's degree. A decade ago North Carolina removed salary increases for educators with advanced degrees. Legislators have introduced multiple bills to restore the supplement, but they have failed.

A pathway for easier licensing

An updated provision will make it easier for out-of-state teachers to gain their North Carolina teaching license. Teacher license reciprocity allows teachers who hold an out-of-state license to earn a license in North Carolina. They were subject to meeting some requirements, but the process was easier than going through the licensing requirements of new teachers with no previous experience. 

North Carolina only allowed for reciprocity with a limited number of states. The new provision now says a teacher can be granted a North Carolina teaching license if they are licensed in another state with substantially similar licensure requirements, have at least three years of teaching experience, and are in good standing with the other state.

Expansion of private school vouchers

The proposed North Carolina budget is bringing the state’s largest expansion of private school vouchers the state has ever seen.  Known as Opportunity Scholarships the program gives vouchers to families to help pay for private school tuition for their children.

Previously serving primarily low-income and middle-income families, the expansion would make families of all incomes eligible for the voucher.

Over the next decade, more than half a billion dollars will be budgeted for Opportunity Scholarships. The program would start to shell out the money in the 2024-25 school year. 

The proposed expansion would about double the current funding available for the program. Last year, the program had $133 million. This year, that number climbs to $263.5 million.

“Parents should have the freedom to be able to choose whatever school best meets their needs," Mike Long, the president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, said. "And they should have the economic ability to do it. They're taxpayers, so that money should follow the child, not the system.”

Proponents of the scholarships call it backpack funding. 

Critics of the expansion say public dollars don’t belong in private schools. 

"The most egregious part of this legislation is raising the cap on the eligibility for it," De La Jara said. "So no longer will it be just for low-income residents in our community, but folks who are already affording to pay. They're going to get an immediate tax break. "

The budget now requires the state superintendent to recommend a nationally standardized test for private school voucher students to take. This test would compare them to students in public schools. 

The maximum scholarship amount would also rise from just above $6,000 to $7,213. The amount available to the highest-income families would be $3,246.

RELATED: NC Republicans call for $1.3 billion boost for private school vouchers

State Board of Education stripped of more powers

The general assembly stripped the North Carolina State Board of Education of its power to fund charter schools. This comes after a new law passed in 2023 stripped the state board of its authority to approve or deny charter school applications. Thw power was given to the Charter School Review Board.

The review board has 11 members, at least eight of whom would come from the Republican-controlled General Assembly. The North Carolina State Board of Education, which previously approved and denied applications, is majority Democrat-appointed.

After the law went into effect the NCSBE passed a policy stating charter schools' funding would hinge on its board's financial review. Charter schools would have to show compliance with finance laws of state and federal money in order to receive funding under a new policy. 

The proposed budget takes that ability away from the board.  

RELATED: NC State Board of Education in power struggle with Charter School Review Board over school applications

Delay in implementation of Parents Bill of Rights

The budget delays the implementation of the Parents Bill of Rights until Jan. 2024. The Parents' Bill of Rights is supposed to give parents more control over their child's education. The bill was passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly after it overrode a veto by Gov. Roy Cooper. 

The law requires schools to notify parents when a child requests a name or pronoun change, parents have the right to review books used in the library and classroom, and parents have the right to review all available records of materials their child has borrowed from a school library. 

The bill also prohibits kindergarten to fourth graders from learning about gender identity and sexuality.