The plan calls for spending $23.9 billion during the 2019-20 fiscal year, and it increases spending on public education by $1.3 billion over the next two years.
Senate leaders told reporters the pay increase would raise the average teacher salary to $54,500 per year over the biennium.
The average teacher salary is now $53,975. A proposal in the House’s budget proposal would raise it to $55,600.
Meanwhile, under Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget proposal, teachers would receive an average 9.1 percent pay raise over the biennium.
Teacher pay has been a hot topic in North Carolina as the state tries to move closer to the national average of $60,477. Educators and lawmakers agree better pay will help school districts recruit and retain high quality teachers.
Sen. Majority Leader Harry Brown, an Onslow County Republican, said the Republican-led General Assembly has raised teacher pay by about 20 percent over the past five years.
A recent study by the nonpartisan Public School Forum of North Carolina was, however, highly critical of teacher compensation in the state. It reported, among other things, that the average teacher salaries in more than 80 percent of North Carolina’s school districts fall below the reported state average salary.
The budget also sets aside $15 million each of the next two years to boost principal pay and to provide bonuses of up to $30,000 for principals who work in low-performing schools.
“We think this will get some of the best principals into those low-performing schools,” Brown said.
In a statement, Cooper took issue with the Senate’s decision to not expand Medicaid, which the N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE) has made a legislative priority.
“This budget leaves out Medicaid expansion that would close the health care coverage gap and it shortchanges public schools in exchange for more corporate tax cuts,” Cooper said through his spokesman Ford Porter. “The Governor hopes to continue working with the House and Senate on a budget that does more to help hard working North Carolinians.”
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, (R-Rockingham), called the Senate’s spending plan a “good budget.” He said Cooper would be wise to accept the budget the House and Senate sends forward.
“Like the House, he [Gov. Cooper] should look at how the state’s resources have been managed over the past nine years and what that has done for the fiscal soundness of the State of North Carolina,” Berger said during a Tuesday press conference.
“We are continuing those polices. He should sign the budget we work out with the House.”
While teacher pay increases in recent years have focused on new to mid-career teachers, the Senate’s budget takes aim at veteran educators, primarily with annual bonuses.
Teachers with 15 to 24 years of experience would be eligible for $500 bonuses and those with more than 25 years of experience would be eligible for bonuses of $1,000.
The budget also provides funding for 100 new psychologists.
It was unclear Tuesday how the 100 psychologists would impact the state’s student-to-psychologist ratio, which is badly out of line with what the National Association of School Psychologist (NASP) recommends.
NASP recommends one psychologist for every 500 to 700 students. North Carolina has one psychologist for every 2,100 students, according to the N.C. School Psychology Association (NCSPA).
The NCSPA also reports that 740 school psychologists serve roughly 1.6 million school in North Carolina.
Lawmakers said the Senate’s plan would ensure every school district has at least one psychologist.
The need for more psychologists to address the mental health needs of students was one of the items teachers demanded May 1 when they marched in Raleigh.
Teachers complained they are overworked and are often asked to play too many roles at work. More psychologists, counselors and social workers would help lighten the load, teachers said.
Sen. Rick Horner, (R-Johnston), questioned whether every district needs a psychologist during a meeting of the Senate Appropriations on Education/Higher Education Committee meeting.
Horner said smaller districts such as Halifax County, Weldon City and Roanoke Rapids schools could share a psychologist. All three school districts are located in Halifax County.
“They would get three school psychologists, one for each LEA [Local Education Agency or school district] rather than one for the county,” Horner said in an interview. “There are some of us who believe those districts should be merged. I don’t think it’s a good policy to give little bitty school districts a full position like that.”
Like the House’s budget, the Senate plan includes money for teachers to buy classroom supplies.
Teachers would receive $300 to purchase supplies such as copy paper, pencils and crayons through the ClassWallet App.
The Senate’s plan also increases the state school supply fund by $15 million to bring the total to more than $62 million.
The Senate’s plan initially did not include new money. It also called for teachers to get $400.
But that changed after educators complained lawmakers planned to fund the program with money the state allocates school districts each year to buy school supplies.
The House budget would also add $15 million to the school supply fund, but provide teachers only $145 to purchase supplies so the program could be funded only with new money.
The Senate’s plan would add three more universities to the teacher training program administered by the University of North Carolina System.
Three additional schools would bring the total number of universities offering the program to eight.
None of the five schools currently offering the program are among the state’s 10 private and state-funded historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
That has been a sore spot for some lawmakers, particularly those who are African American and attended one the state’s HBCUs.
The N.C. Teaching Fellows Commission is directed to choose a “diverse” selection of schools to host the program.
Sen. Erica D. Smith, (D-North Hampton), said that hasn’t happened.
“We’re happy that the Teaching Fellows program is back,” said Smith, a graduate of N.C. A&T University. “However, when you choose five schools that are not geographically diverse, but more importantly are not racially diverse as they should be, you are discounting a large number of candidates that we know, based on the research that shows African American students tend to do better when they see models of success in their teachers.”
Elon University, Meredith College, N.C. State University, UNC-Chapel Hill and UNC-Charlotte were recently chosen to host the state’s Teaching Fellows program.
Only one HBCU — N.C. A&T — applied for the program. It was not selected.