By stifling the urge to keep cutting taxes, the budget proposed in March by Gov. Roy Cooper would do more for higher education than either the House or the Senate plans.
But none of the plans return North Carolina to pre-recession levels of spending per student, even as other states increase their investments in education. Even though the state has generated budget surpluses of $425 million last year1 and $580 million this year,2 it continues to languish in comparison with other states, especially in expenditures on K-12 public schools.3
The House’s plan to limit tax cuts to an increase in the standard deduction is admirable because it attempts to focus the benefits on those at the bottom of the income scale. But the fact is the Senate’s proposal spends more on our public universities, and Cooper’s proposal does more than either legislative effort.
In what is now the nation’s 9th-largest state, all three proposals would provide $46 million for growth in enrollment at our state’s public universities and $4.9 million for enrollment growth at community colleges.
But the governor would definitely do more to reward the people who teach our children in both our public schools and universities:
- Cooper proposes a raise of 5% this year and 5% next year as part of an effort to lead the Southeast in teacher pay in three years and reach the national average in five.
- The Senate proposes average raises of 3.7%.
- The House proposes average raises of 3.3%, with the biggest increases focused on mid-career teachers.
- Cooper proposes raises for state employees, including university faculty, of 2% or $800, whichever is greater, plus a $500 one-time bonus – the largest increase in almost a decade.
- The Senate proposes state employee raises of 1.5% or $750, whichever is greater.
- The House proposes raises of $1,000 across the board. (The House would also put a sorely needed $3 million into a fund to retain faculty who receive competing offers.)
The governor’s proposal also would invest an additional $21 million in university research, including restoration of the University Cancer Research Fund to its full $50 million a year.
To the House’s credit, it avoided ordering universities to make an additional $20 million in proposed cuts in a year when the state has a $580 million surplus.
The House proposal also avoids a $4 million cut in the Senate budget to the UNC School of Law and the Senate’s proposed elimination of state support for the Governor’s School for gifted high-school students in 2018-19.
But unfortunately, while the House budget would provide $41 million for university raises, it would also require universities to return $43 million in savings from turnover in personnel – effectively requiring the universities to fund their own pay raise.
Despite the shortcomings, the House and Senate proposals show signs of agreement on some positive measures:
- Both provide for partial restoration of the NC Teaching Fellows program, creating forgivable loans of as much as $8,250 for students who agree to teach in STEM or special education fields.
- Both provide $2 million for NC State University to take part in a national effort to develop new processes to produce biopharmaceuticals.
- Both provide at least $1.35 million to the NC State Cooperative Extension Service for faculty and employee retention and recruitment. (The Senate provides $3.5 million.)
- Both provide $4 million to stabilize the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. (The House also would provide $2.3 million to plan a new medical-education building at ECU.)
- The Senate provides an additional $8 million a year for an Asheville campus for the UNC School of Medicine and $3 million to add 15 students at the medical school.
- Both provide at least $9 million for improved data analytics for the UNC System.
- Both provide $2.8 million to stabilize enrollment at Elizabeth City State University.
- Both provide $1.5 million for 20 Cheatham-White Scholarships each at NC Central and NC A&T State University. The universities would be required to match the state funds with private donations.
- The House provides $2 million to support established doctoral programs at NC A&T; the Senate provides $1 million.
- The House would provide a badly needed $9.5 million to begin replacement of a 1920s-era boiler system at Western Carolina University.
As legislators continue to negotiate the budget in conference committee, they have an opportunity to strengthen public education and our state as a whole by incorporating the best of all three proposals.
1 http://www.bizjournals.com/charlotte/news/2016/07/19/nc-budget-reflects-economic-debate.html; http://www.twcnews.com/nc/triangle-sandhills/news/2016/07/12/nc-budget-director-reports-425-million-surplus.html.