The N.C. Legislature continues to struggle to come to an agreement on whether teacher assistants and driver education programs should be included in the 2015-16 public schools budget.
Rep. Sarah Stevens, who represents Surry and Wilkes counties in the N.C. House, says there has been very little progress in the ongoing battle over whether teacher assistants and driver education programs will continue to be funded.
“I think there are generally some philosophical differences between the House and the Senate,” she said Wednesday evening, calling from Raleigh. “There are some key issues that are going to have to be negotiated.”
As for how long that will take, Stevens said, “I think it’s hard when philosophical people believe one thing versus another … We have to meet in the middle …
“I don’t know that we’re in enough of a negotiating solution at this point to even tell. My anticipation is that we may still be here another couple of months.”
The House supports continuing to fund teacher assistant positions and driver education programs through the public schools budget, and the Senate does not. “The only way we can make it go any faster is if we just give in,” Stevens said. “I think the House’s position is that these are important enough that we need to stand strong.”
That’s exactly what Stevens intends to do. “I have a daughter who teaches in the second grade,” she said, “and I know particularly in K-2, there are so many additional needs of those children that teachers need assistants.”
As for the driver education program offered free to students in the public schools for the past 64 years, Stevens said she thinks it’s very important for students to be taught how to drive through the education system. “We want everyone to have it,” she said, “and the only way for everyone to have it is for the state to provide it.”
If students are not taught to drive through a uniform program, “then how are you going to ensure that they know those rules of the road?” Stevens asked.
Rep. Lee Zachary, who represents Alexander, Wilkes and Yadkin counties in the N.C. House of Representatives, could not be reached for comment. Neither could Sen. Shirley B. Randleman, who represents Stokes, Surry and Wilkes County in the N.C. Senate, or Sen. Joyce Krawiec, who represents Forsyth and Yadkin counties.
The House initially proposed an $88.8 million increase in recurring funds for teacher assistants to replace non-recurring funds provided in 2014-15 through excess state lottery receipts, according to a 2015 Legislative Update & Budget Comparisons PowerPoint presentation presented at the Elkin City Schools’ last Board of Education meeting. The presentation was prepared by Katherine W. Joyce, executive director of the N.C. Association of School Administrators.
This proposed increase would keep teacher assistant positions stable at $376.1 million for the 2015-16 school year.
The N.C. Senate, however, had initially proposed a $57.7 million reduction in recurring funds for teacher assistants; no replacement for $24.8 million in non-recurring funds from 2014-15; and elimination of $113.3 million in lottery receipts. The proposed $195.6 million total reduction for 2015-16 would result in an estimated loss of 5,289 teacher assistant positions across the state.
The Senate, however, also had initially proposed adding an additional 2,000 teacher positions in its proposed budget for the current year.
As for the driver education program, the N.C. Senate’s initially proposed budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year would provide no funding for public schools and removes the $65 cap a local education agency can charge a student. The Senate also issued a directive to the North Carolina Community College System to study establishing statewide, tuition-based driver education programs and approved shifting responsibility for the program to community colleges in 2016.
The budget initially proposed by the N.C. House, however, would provide $16.37 million in non-recurring General Fund money for the driver education program. After that, House representatives proposed funding driver education through a created revenue stream of fines on late vehicle registrations estimated to be worth about $27 million a year.
When the two branches of the Legislature finally do agree on a proposed budget, it must be submitted to Gov. Pat McCrory for final approval.
Kathy Chaffin can be reached at 336-258-4058.