The Pulse

Democrats challenge Senate budget, contends it hurts public schools

By: - May 18, 2023 5:37 pm
Sen. Graig Meyer

Sen. Graig Meyer, a Democrat from Orange County, criticized the Senate budget on Thursday, contending that it harms public education.

“The Senate budget unveiled this week siphons critical dollars to so-called “voucher” programs that favor wealthy students and diminishes our public education system,” Meyer said in a statement.

The Senate approved its version of the state budget on a 37-12 vote. Seven Democrats joined Republicans to vote in favor of the budget.

Meyers said that parents are free to send their children to private school, but shouldn’t be able to do so at taxpayers’ expense.

“When 80% of our children depend on their community’s public schools, our priority should be fully funding the court-ordered Leandro plan, which would make sure every student in North Carolina has access to the best teachers and has a chance to succeed in school and in life,” Meyer said.

The Leandro Comprehensive Remedial Plan to which Meyers referred stems for a landmark school funding lawsuit that remains unsettled even though the North Carolina Supreme Court has on several occasions ruled in favor of the five low-wealth counties that sued the state claiming that children were not receiving the same level of educational opportunities as students in wealthier counties. School districts in Cumberland, Hoke, Robeson and Vance counties joined Halifax County in the lawsuit.

In recent years, judges assigned to the case have ordered the state to release hundreds of millions of dollars to North Carolina’s public schools to provide the children with the sound basic education guaranteed under the state constitution. The state’s Republican-led General Assembly, however, has pushed back, contending only it has the authority to order such funds released.

The Senate’s budget is $29.7 billion the first year of the biennium and $30.8 billion the second year. Education, including the UNC System and the Community College System, is nearly 60% of the budget each year. K-12 Education spending is about $11.5 billion each year.

Gov. Roy Cooper

On Tuesday, Gov. Roy Cooper took to social media to blast the Senate’s budget, calling it a “historic disaster for public education.”

Cooper, a Democrat, said the Senate’s budget fails to funds basic needs and will force school districts to cut “everything from bus routes to courses” even though the state can pay for them.

“Public schools educate 8 in 10 of our state’s school-age children but the Senate budget starves them, instead offering billions of dollars in private school vouchers that millionaires can use to send their children to private academies,” Cooper tweeted.

The House and the Senate have approved bills to expand the state’s school voucher program so that any family regardless of income is eligible for them — even families earning millions of dollars each year. The program was created a decade ago to help low-income family escape low-performing schools by helping them pay private school tuition.

Cooper was also critical of the Senate’s teacher pay raise proposal. Teachers would receive an average 4.5% pay increase over two years under the Senate’s budget. Cooper’s budget calls for an average 18% raise over two years. The House’s budget calls for a 4.25% pay raise the first year and 3.25% the second.

The governor said the Senate budget shortchanges veteran teachers.

“Despite thousands of teacher vacancies, the Senate budget slaps veteran teachers with 15+ years in the classroom in the face with only a $250 raise spread over 2 years,” he said. “But it rewards statewide politicians with big raises of more than 15-20%. That’s insulting, and it’s wrong.”

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Greg Childress
Greg Childress

Education Reporter Greg Childress covers all aspects of public education in North Carolina, including debates over school funding, curricula, privatization, and teacher pay and licensing.