LAURINBURG —State Sen. Tom McInnis said the budget signed this week by Gov. Pat McCrory is a milestone in education for North Carolina.
The $22.3 billion state spending plan will significantly increase average teacher salaries.
“Average teacher pay will be boosted above $50,000 for the first time in state history,” said McInnis, who represents Scotland, Anson and Richmond counties in the state Senate. “When fully implemented, it would mean average teacher salaries are up almost $10,000 – more than 20 percent – under Republican leadership since the 2013-14 school year. This will propel the state to the top of regional rankings.”
McInnis said the budget fully funds teacher assistant positions at the 2014-2015 level.
The budget also creates a teacher assistant pilot program in Scotland County along with Anson, Franklin, Moore and Richmond counties to provide tuition reimbursement of up to $4,500 annually for 25 local teacher assistants to pursue a college degree leading to teacher licensure.
“This is intended to counteract the teacher shortage in our district, in part due to Tier One status, and the severe need for qualified, homegrown teachers in our classrooms,” McInnis said. “With the success of this program, I hope it will become a statewide standard.”
Included in the budget is a measure that will lower tuition at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke and two other schools — Elizabeth City State University and Western Carolina University — to $500 per semester for in-state students and $2,500 for out-of-state students beginning in fall 2018. The budget includes $40 million to offset the loss of tuition revenue at the three schools, as well as a one-time appropriation of $675,000 for UNCP.
Although the plan stoked worries among UNCP alumni and supporters, Chancellor Robin Cummings has said it could benefit UNCP as well as students who otherwise might struggle to attend a four-year university.
McInnis said the measure gives more people access to an affordable education.
“This will help attract new students to universities with lower enrollment, make those schools more stable and competitive and stimulate struggling regional economies that sometimes transcend the state’s borders,” he said. “With UNC-P in our own backyard, this is a great opportunity for our area to get an affordable, high-quality college education close to home.”
Additionally, the budget includes $94,000 for downtown revitalization in Laurinburg.
“Generally speaking it was an overall good budget … It was decent,” said Rep. Ken Goodman, who represents Scotland, Richmond and Robeson counties. “There were more good things in it than there were bad. That’s why I voted for it. If everyone voted against the budget because there was something in it they didn’t like we would never have a budget.”
Rank-and-file state employees also get a 1.5 percent pay raise and bonuses of at least 0.5 percent. There are also income tax cuts through higher standard deductions of $1,000 to $2,000 — depending on one’s filing status — that will be phased in this year and next.
There was no tax cut or across-the-board raises for state employees in McCrory’s original budget proposal, released at a time when there was a predicted $237 million surplus in the previous year’s budget. The surplus ultimately grew to $425 million.
The law puts $474 million more in the state’s rainy-day reserve fund.
Scott Witten can be reached at 910-506-3023