This article was published in the Lenoir News-Topic.

The budget proposal set for a vote in General Assembly this week would reduce state spending on teacher assistants by $120 million, or about 21 percent. It also would provide no raises for teachers and other state employees, eventually eliminate teacher tenure and increase public spending on private schools.

Caldwell County Schools superintendent Steve Stone said he hadn’t had a chance to study the proposed budget at length and that he hoped for a provision that would save teacher assistants’ jobs. If there are no such provisions, a 21 percent reduction in spending at the state level would mean roughly 20 teacher assistant positions in Caldwell would be cut, he said.Stone called that prospect a “devastating cut” and repeated a statement he has made earlier – that legislators in Raleigh misunderstand the role of teacher assistants.

“I don’t think the General Assembly has a clue what they’re doing when they take away teacher assistants,” he said. “Teacher assistants are a vital part of that child’s education, especially as the General Assembly keeps increasing class size.”

The proposed budget, which comes more than three weeks after the fiscal year started on July 1, also would provide no pay raises for teachers and other state employees. That’s consistent with original versions of the House and Senate budgets, although Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposal included a 1 percent raise for state employees.

The proposal would provide an extra five days of vacation for teachers and other state employees.

Teacher pay in North Carolina last year ranks 46th in the country, according to the National Education Association. Low pay hurts recruitment efforts, say some administrators, including Stone, who said N.C. teacher pay is representative of a “continuing march to the bottom” for education policy in the state.

“It’s demoralizing to teachers and particularly to our recruitment efforts in getting people to even look at education as a field,” Stone said. “I fear in the long run, there’s going to be a shortage of teachers because of the shortsightedness of the General Assembly.”

The proposed budget would also end public-school teacher tenure by June 2018. Currently, local school boards grant tenure to teachers after their first four years on the job. Teachers who don’t get tenure at that time don’t keep their jobs. Teachers who get tenure gain job security; they can still be fired, but school districts must go through a specified disciplinary process.

Under the proposed budget, all public-school teachers would work under one- to four-year contracts. Teachers who didn’t have tenure before the upcoming 2013-14 school year would not receive it.

Stone said he opposes ending tenure because would make it easier for school districts to fire teachers for arbitrary reasons.

The proposed budget also provides for two voucher programs that would allow qualifying families to receive public dollars toward private school tuition, starting with the 2014-15 academic year. The first would apply to low-income and working-class families, while the second would apply to children with disabilities

Educators are split on that proposal.

Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, released a statement praising both provisions.

“The Opportunity Scholarship Act and Children with Disabilities Scholarship Grants represent a growing momentum in our state to ensure that every child receives the education best suited to their needs, which we know will help increase the quality of education they receive,” Allison said. “This week marks an important milestone for school choice in North Carolina.”

Public-school advocates have traditionally opposed voucher bills, saying private and charter schools have little or no accountability to taxpayers. Stone falls into that camp.

“It is using public money to pay for private school,” he said. “That is wrong. It’s wrong on so many counts, and as taxpayers people should be resentful of the fact that tax dollars are being spent on private education.”