Your View: Guest Column - Inaccuracies on state education funding abound
BY REP. RAYNE BROWN AND REP. ROGER YOUNTS
We want to lay out the facts and dispel some of the inaccuracies about education funding in North Carolina. The just-enacted budget spends more money on education than has EVER been spent on education in North Carolina ($11.5 billion out of a total $20.6 billion budget, 56 percent), including more than $18 million for school security and safety, including crisis planning, panic alarms, and instant communication with police and others.
The budget increases K-12 spending by 2.1 percent. A pay increase for teachers and other state employees was precluded by cost overruns of over $1 billion in the Medicaid program and tax reform. Medicaid consumes 15 percent of the budget and is the fastest growing part of the budget. Efforts are underway to bring efficiency and accountability to this program.
The budget does increase tuition at public universities for out-of-state students in order to keep tuition affordable for North Carolina families. The budget also phases out new pay supplements for teachers who earn a masters’ degree, UNLESS the advanced degree is required for their position. If a teacher is already collecting supplemental pay, or their masters degree will be completed by April 1, 2014, they will be grandfathered in and still collect the supplement.
The plan moves teachers to multi-year renewable contracts, the length of which will depend on experience and performance reviews. The plan will reward high-performing teachers with longer contracts and give principals the flexibility they need. For the first time, in 2011, the General Assembly voted to pay $400 a year per teacher for liability insurance. This coverage continues in 2013.
In 2011 and in 2013, the retirement and health insurance programs for state employees were fully funded. This means that the recommended contribution was made. It does not mean that these funds are self -sufficient. Past Legislatures did not fully fund them and investment returns have been down for several years. Unlike employees in the private sector who receive a defined contribution upon retirement and no continued health insurance, a public employee receives a defined benefit for life, along with insurance.
Currently, the retirement program is about $9 billion underfunded, while the state employee health care program is $29 billion underfunded. It is doubtful that state employee contributions and investment returns will be able to make up this deficit. Taxpayers will make up much of the difference. State employees are also often able to retire a decade, or more, earlier than those in the private sector because of these benefits. When we talk about education funding and obligations, this is an important fact to know and to consider.
The Legislature also made targeted investments to modernize North Carolina’s education. Money was budgeted for increasing digital textbooks and digital training for teachers and administrators as part of their licensure. The State Board of Education is to work with community colleges to create high school programs in engineering, technology and other high-employment fields and to prepare high school students for work, higher education or both.
A pilot program called “Opportunity Scholarships” will allow low-income students to attend private school if their needs are not able to be met in traditional public schools, allowing low-income families to receive the same opportunity that wealthier families enjoy. The money set aside for the opportunity scholarships is $10.2 million dollars, which, when compared to the $11.5 billion education budget, is relatively speaking, a drop in the bucket.
The General Assembly enacted a tax reform plan that will allow ALL North Carolina taxpayers to pay less in taxes. The standard deduction is increased to $15,000 for taxpayers who are married filing jointly, $12,000 for heads of household and $7,500 for single filers. The child credit also went from $100 to $125 per dependent for families making less than $40,000. For the most vulnerable North Carolinians, the tax rate is still 0 percent.
When teachers, parents and all taxpayers keep more of their hard-earned money, it is good for our state’s economy. In fact, the tax reform plan moved North Carolina from 44th to 17th in the rankings of the most business-friendly states. That means ultimately more jobs for North Carolinians, and more money for schools, roads, and all of our priorities.
Change is always unsettling, but as a state we must meet the challenges of a changing economy and provide our children the opportunities they need to lead this state into the future. A results-driven plan with a focus on modern skills and a smooth transition to higher education will allow us to leave our students with a better North Carolina.
Rayne Brown represents District 81 and Roger Younts represents District 80, both in Davidson County, in the N.C. House of Representatives.
YOUR VIEW POLLS
Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law a bill that changes numerous N.C. voting statutes, including voter ID requirement, early voting and use of paper ballots. What’s your view? In 30 words or less (no name, address required), email your thoughts to email@example.com or go to hpe.com under Opinion and post a comment. Here is one response:
• The use of a hard copy of votes is a good idea. Will cut down on “ghost” voting.
The North Carolina Legislature has approved a $20.6 billion budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year. Additionally, it has reduced the state’s personal and corporate income tax rates and expanded some sales taxes. What’s your view? In 30 words or less (no name, address required), email your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org or go to hpe.com and post a comment.