Opinion

5 things to like about the Republican NC House budget

NC teachers may get $400 each to spend on classroom supplies

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson talks about the North Carolina Teacher Supply Program that would give every teacher $400 to spend on school supplies. Teachers would use the ClassWallet app for purchases and reimbursements.
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State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson talks about the North Carolina Teacher Supply Program that would give every teacher $400 to spend on school supplies. Teachers would use the ClassWallet app for purchases and reimbursements.

The North Carolina House budget, released Monday evening, is in many ways typical of N.C. Republican budgets. It features “tax reform” that’s really just tax cuts, and it’s fuzzy on whether teachers will get the kind of pay and resources they and their classrooms deserve. That dynamic of cutting taxes and underfunding education is what’s bringing public school teachers to Raleigh again for another rally Wednesday.

Still, there are items in this budget’s first draft that should encourage all North Carolinians, including education advocates. We hope these items survive — at least conceptually — as House and Senate lawmakers begin the journey toward a final budget:

Opioid addiction: The House budget gives an additional $5 million per year for state-run opioid treatment programs. It also creates new programs like addiction help for people in prison and continues to fund a “quick response” pilot program for treating overdoses that’s already been successful in the Cape Fear area and could expand to other areas.

The best way to fully attack opioid issues is to expand Medicaid in North Carolina, which would increase access to treatments for opioid use disorders. But the House budget shows that Republicans are at least aware of the need to meet the growing opioid crisis.

Rape kits: There are more than 10,000 untested rape kits statewide, a backlog that includes decades worth of unsolved cases. It’s inexcusable, and state lawmakers and Attorney General Josh Stein are moving toward correcting this tragic negligence. Legislation would direct police and sheriffs departments to submit new kits to the State Crime Lab, and the budget currently contains $6 million to help pay for testing of backlogged kits. That’s what the attorney general has called for, and the final budget should include it.

Advanced teaching roles: The budget doubles a current $1.5 million grant for “create innovative compensation models” that would give up to a 30 percent raise to teachers who come up with plans that lead to “measurable improvements in student outcomes.”

We’d rather have districts than the state deciding which teachers get grants, and we understand concerns about tying money to short-term “measurable” outcomes. We also agree with educators who say this type of initiative shouldn’t replace better teacher pay. Still, educators should be receptive to programs that encourage innovation. This one does.

School security: The budget allots tens of millions of dollars over the next two years for school safety grants, the News and Observer reports. Schools can apply for money for several areas, including school resource officers to mental health support personnel. The criteria for which applications get selected are unclear, and we worry that the Republicans state schools superintendent will show preference toward physical security upgrades and school resource officers (which can do more harm than good). But we like that the budget not only provides both money and flexibility for school safety.

Election security: The president doesn’t seem to think it’s a problem, but intelligence reports show that in 2016, Russia hacked into local U.S. election boards — and apparently a Florida voter-registration network in 2016. Few believe that Russia or other countries plan to back off next election, so North Carolinians should be pleased to see several million dollars in state and federal money going toward modernizing the state’s election security.

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