RALEIGH – Gov. Roy Cooper’s proposed state budget for 2017-19 asks lawmakers to choose education over the tax cuts they’ve favored in recent years.
“We have a world-class University System, a culture of innovation and creativity, and an abundance of natural beauty,” Cooper said in a letter presenting his budget to legislators. “However, over the past several years … too little investment in education and other core government services (has) tarnished North Carolina’s reputation.”1
Without raising taxes, Cooper seeks to ramp up the state’s sluggish investment in public education in recent years.
One recent ranking rated the state’s K-12 schools 37th in the nation, with per-pupil spending ranked 8th-lowest – $3,200 below the national average and $1,900 below South Carolina. The ranking noted that the state spends just 2.5% of its taxable resources on education – less than any state but North Dakota.2
As of last year, North Carolina ranked 41st in the nation in K-12 teacher pay.3 Even when the comparison is limited to Southeastern states, North Carolina teachers’ salaries rank 9th out of 12. By granting teachers two years of 5% raises, though, the governor aims to make NC teacher pay lead the Southeast within three years and reach the national average in five years.
Some 37% of NC public school teachers are educated at UNC System schools,4 but enrollment in UNC schools of education has declined markedly over the past six years.5 So the governor proposes new scholarships of $10,000 a year for prospective teachers who commit to teach in public schools.6
As part of an effort to make North Carolina a “Top 10 Educated State” by 2025, Cooper aims to increase the percentage of North Carolina adults with at least an associate’s degree from 38.7% to 55% by 2025. He notes that workers with at least some post-secondary education earn 82% more than their less-educated peers.7
For community colleges, he recommends an increase of $95 million, or 8.9%, in 2017-18, and 8.5% in 2018-19. He also proposes new scholarships to completely pay tuition and fees for high school grads with at least a 2.0 GPA.8
For universities, the governor recommends an increase of $132 million, or 4.8%, for 2017-18, and 6.2% in 2018-19. That includes $21 million in investments in university research.9 A reversal of recent years’ reductions in spending per student10would be a welcome change.
Cooper also recommends $351 million in bonds to renovate government buildings11 – half of them university buildings, which have a maintenance backlog of more than $2.5 billion.
There are some omissions, though: The governor chose not to include the UNC Board of Governors’ request for $10 million to expand medical education at UNC Chapel Hill and East Carolina University, or the board’s request to retain some of the state’s most talented students by providing free tuition at UNC System schools for graduates of the NC School of Science and Mathematics.12
Sure, Republicans in the General Assembly have the votes to override the governor if he vetoes their spending priorities. But his proposed budget is a welcome start to the conversation – and a challenge to legislators to show how much they support public education.
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1https://ncosbm.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/documents/files/BudgetBook_2017_web.pdf, p. 1.
2http://247wallst.com/special-report/2017/01/20/states-with-the-best-and-worst-schools-4/9/, p. 9.
3http://best-nc.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/BEST-NCs-2017-Facts-Figures-vPDF-Optimized.pdf, p. 25.
6https://ncosbm.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/documents/files/BudgetBook_2017_web.pdf, pp. 49, 58.
7Ibid, p. 2.
8Ibid, pp. 54-55.
9Ibid, p. 57.
11Ibid, p. 6.
12http://www.northcarolina.edu/apps/bog/doc.php?id=55461&code=bog, p. 7.
13 https://ncosbm.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/documents/files/BudgetBook_2017_web.pdf, pp. 49-53.
14Ibid, pp. 54-56.
15Ibid, pp. 57-60.