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While Sen. Don Davis supported Republican’s lackluster education budgets schools in his district struggle to compete

NC Senate Republicans rolled out their version of this session’s budget Tuesday and the full Senate is likely to vote on it by the end of this week. In the House, a few Democrats sided with the Republican’s plan despite its failings, including a refusal to extend a raise to teachers with fewer than 16 years of experience. In the Senate’s version, teacher pay raises are even smaller. The Republican budget appears to again ignore the struggles of local school districts, like those in Greene and Pitt counties, to keep pace with state and national levels.

Public schools in Senator Don Davis’s district are struggling while he supports Republican education budgets. Greene and Pitt counties can’t keep up with wealthier counties on teacher pay, ranking 108 and 82 out of 115, respectively, for average teacher pay. Average teacher pay in Greene county is $48,965.53, more than $5,000 less than the statewide average. In Pitt county, average teacher pay is more than $3,000 less than the statewide average.

Counties have been forced to make up for low teacher pay at the state level by offering salary supplements to teachers. According to Public School Forum, the average supplemental salary statewide is $4,580. Greene county’s supplement is just $1,000 while Pitt’s is $2,382. Lackluster state budgets have put county governments in a difficult position where they have to choose between offering competitive teacher salaries or providing other vital services to residents. This year’s proposed budget calls for a slight teacher raise, but it only applies to teachers with at least 16 years of experience and does not go into effect immediately. The Senate’s version of this year’s budget also fails to restore advanced degree pay for teachers.

Small counties like Greene struggle to match the offerings of larger, more affluent counties which creates inequities across the state like higher teacher turnover and low school performance grades. These inequities are compounded because Greene and Pitt counties also face higher poverty levels than most of the state. Statewide, 16.1 percent of people live below the federal poverty level, but in Greene and Pitt counties nearly one-quarter of residents live below the poverty line. Meanwhile, 21.8 percent of school-aged children (ages 5 to 17) across the state live below the poverty line. In Greene county 36.1 percent of children between 5 and 17-years-old live below federal poverty levels. In Pitt that number is 28.7 percent.

Teacher pay is not the only thing that has suffered under inadequate Republican budgets. Underfunding is also linked to low performance, and Greene and Pitt counties face low performance grades. On average 42.2 percent of NC public and charter schools earned a “C” level performance grade. Only 33 percent of Greene County schools and 35 percent of Pitt County schools earned “C” level performance grades. Meanwhile, the statewide average for “D” grades is just 18.6 percent. However, 50 percent of Greene County schools and 52 percent of Pitt County schools earned “D” grades.

As Senators consider the budget in Wednesday’s appropriations committee and on the Senate floor, they should think through the detrimental impacts at the local level of underfunding public education as a state.