Though there is $400 million more in funding going to DPI this year compared to last year, the budget does not include pay raises for teachers or other public school employees over the next two years. Like the last budget, it does provide five additional bonus leave days that must be used prior to June 30, 2014. The reduction in teacher assistant funding is the most significant cut at $120 million, a 21 percent decrease in funding for teacher assistants. Also, additional pay for teachers with advanced degrees is being phased out, which means that teachers must earn their advanced degrees prior to the 2014-2015 school if they wish to keep their advanced-degree salary supplements. Certified school nurses and instructional support personnel who require an advanced degree (e.g. master’s) for licensure are exempted from the supplemental pay phase-out. The full discretionary cuts that are typically made were eliminated, leaving districts with money in some unexpected areas. Districts have requested and continue to request flexibility to shift monies allotted in certain areas to offset state cuts.
Career status is being replaced by teacher contracts. Teachers with fewer than three years of teaching experience will be eligible for one-year contracts, while teachers with at least three years of teaching experience will be eligible for two- or four-year contracts. Final authority over the length of the contracts lies with the local board of education but the superintendent is charged with recommending who should be renewed and non-renewed and what contract duration teachers should receive. Teachers who have not achieved career status by the 2013-2014 school year will not be able to achieve career status during the 2013-2014 school year. Career status will be completely phased out by 2018, meaning that teachers who have already have career status will be able to keep it from now until 2018, after which point every North Carolina public school teacher will be employed by contract. The superintendent is charged with recommending 25 percent of teachers for four-year contracts and the teachers recommended for four-year contracts must exhibit effectiveness and earn ratings of at least proficient on their teacher evaluations. Teachers who are non-renewed may petition their local boards of education for a hearing but the local boards do not have to hear the matter. The decision to fire a teacher during the term of his or her contract must be for one of 15 “just cause” reasons, which are identical to the 15 just-cause bases that public school employees have always known.
Though vouchers will not affect public schools in 2013-2014, an appropriation of $10 million is included in the budget for the 2014-2015 school year. Vouchers will actually have a budget impact of $11.8 million. Students from families making no more than 133 percent of the free and reduced lunch standard – not the federal poverty level – who meet certain criteria will be eligible to receive $4,200 in “opportunity scholarships” to attend a private school. Recipient students will not receive the money in the form of a check, rather the money will be sent directly to the private school. Unlike public schools, private school recipients of voucher money will not have to account for the funds or student results.
This provision is different from legislation passed earlier in the 2013 session (HB 269) that replaces the 2011 tuition tax credit program for children with disabilities and replaces it with a voucher program. About $8 million is appropriated over the next two years for a voucher program for students with disabilities to apply for vouchers of up to $6,000 per year for special education and related services at private schools, which includes services provided to home school students. The LEA is still required to reevaluate the student every three years to determine if the child is still eligible under IDEA to receive special education services.
The budget bill keeps North Carolina Pre-K services in place by providing $12.5 million to NC Pre-K services and adding 2,500 additional student slots. The provision sets eligibility levels at 75% of the state median income. Twenty percent of students can exceed the 75% requirement if they meet certain designated risk factors.
The budget bill allows, but does not require, local school boards to enter into agreements with sheriffs and chiefs of police to provide volunteer school security officers to schools to supplement any SROs that may already be in place at the school. The law includes a good faith provision that eliminates liability for schools and volunteer officers as long as the actions that they take are taken in good faith and in furtherance of their performance of duties as a volunteer security officer. The volunteer SROs would have to have prior experience as a sworn law enforcement officer or at least two years as a military police officer.
The new school report cards denoting an A-F grade and a percentage score will not go into effect for the 2013-2014 school year, but they will be distributed in time for the 2014-2015 school year. The law makes it clear that they cannot be distributed earlier than August 1, 2014. The school performance grading formula is generally comprised of 80% end-of-course test proficiency and 20% student growth.
To the extent that funds are made available, any student who completes an advanced course (e.g. AP or IB courses) will be allowed to take the coinciding AP or IB exam at no cost to the student regardless of what score they earn on that exam. Nearly $11 million has been appropriated to cover the costs of these tests for the 2014-2015 school year.