Local educators received some good news this week when state legislators announced the overdue state budget will include money to fully fund teaching assistant positions throughout the state as well as drivers education programs in public high schools.
“We are thrilled to know that teaching assistants will be funded for this year and next.” said Greg Little, superintendent for Mount Airy City Schools.
he was reacting to an announcement earlier this week by House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger of the that the $21.735 billion budget agreement reached over the weekend will fund both programs. The budget agreement was 76 days past the June 30 deadline.
For months the General Assembly has battled over a state budget. The Senate’s initial budget proposal was more severe with educational cuts, eliminating more than 1,700 teacher assistant positions across the state in the coming year and more than 5,000 the following year while adding about 3,000 full time teachers across the state. The House’s plan cut fewer teacher assistants.
“I’ve said all along our teacher assistants play a vital role in our success and we have specifically seen historic growth and achievement in our K-2 because of what they do,” added Little.
The funding for drivers education also had left local schools systems in limbo, with state officials stating their plans to cease funding the programs at the high school level. Surry County Schools chose to temporarily suspend the program until a final state budget was approved, leaving some students at least six months behind in receiving their learners permit.
“I think all of us want our children to be as safe as possible. As a parent, I want to make sure my daughter has the best training possible to ensure when she pulls out of the driveway that she returns home,” said Little.
While a House proposal would have continued funding driver’s education in public schools and lowered the fee to students from $65 to $45, the Senate plan would have moved the programs to community colleges and left students paying the $300 cost.
Surry County Schools officials did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
Other highlights from the budget are:
-Provides a$750 one-time bonus for all state employees and school personnel.
-Provides funds for student enrollment growth in 2015-17.
-Expands Read to Achieve reading camps to first and second graders by providing $20 million in additional funding.
-Provides a $6.9 million increase to the private school voucher program in 2016-17.
-Increases textbook funding by $20 million to total of $52 million in the first year, and $62 million in the second year.
-Increases beginning teacher pay from $33,000/year to $35,000/year.
-Adds $2 million in the first year and $12 million in the second year to enhance school-level WiFi- networks to provide connectivity at the classroom level.
Reach Eva Queen at (336) 415-4739 or [email protected]