Three Republican state senators Thursday introduced a bill requiring that at least 51 percent of state spending on public education go toward classroom teachers.
They called it a move to put North Carolina’s teachers at the top of the state’s priority list, in a year when teachers and their advocates have been protesting low pay and difficult working conditions.
“There’s no question that teachers have the greatest influence on student achievement, so we must ensure they are the top priority for education funding,” said Sen. Tom Apodaca of Henderson County, who sponsored the bill along with David Curtis of Lincoln County and Bill Rabon of Brunswick County.
Exactly how that might play out wasn’t immediately clear.
“It is a brief bill. I have to talk to members about what it actually means,” said Jonathan Sink, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools attorney who serves as legislative liaison. “The bill obviously has powerful sponsors. If they want it to move, it will move.”
The $7.8 billion for public education this year is the largest portion of the state budget. That money covers not only teacher salaries but assistants, administrators, textbooks, transportation and other expenses.
Senate Republican leaders say about 47 percent of the total currently goes toward classroom teachers. Bumping up that percentage would require additional money for teachers, cuts to the other categories or both.
Gov. Pat McCrory’s 2014-15 budget, released Wednesday, includes $108 million for teacher raises. His plan, which won preliminary support from GOP legislative leaders, gives 7 percent raises to teachers in their first seven years and 2 percent to 4.3 percent pay increases for more experienced teachers.
The state provides about 60 percent of the budget for N.C. public schools, a higher portion than all but eight other states. Shifting state money into teacher pay could force counties, which cover an average of 29 percent of the education budget, to pay more for transportation and support staff or accept cuts in those areas.