After all the hullabaloo about how the General Assembly’s Republican leadership was keeping this year’s budget adjustment bill behind closed doors, the resulting product was something of a letdown.

[Longleaf story: North Carolina’s “secret” budget process is all about November]

Most of the big headlines were already communicated ahead of time, and a careful reading of the 267-page budget bill doesn’t reveal many major surprises.

  • Teachers get an average 6.5% raise.
  • State employees get an average 2% raise, with more for corrections officers and State Highway Patrol.
  • Disaster relief gets a $60 million infusion.
  • Economic incentives get strengthened.

There’s disagreement, to be sure. The state’s Democrats argue that tax cuts should be rolled back to increase all these programs and pay even more.

But overall, it’s a fairly noncontroversial budget. It’s fun to dole out more money to people when the economy is growing and revenue comes in higher than expected.

That said, there are always smaller components to the budget that will impact people’s lives.

Here are 14 noteworthy pieces of the budget you might have missed (or misread).

1) School construction, classroom materials and special education get more money.

While teacher pay is always the highlight in the education budget, there are also a number of adjustments to help students and classrooms.

  • The state’s fund that helps build schools in poorer areas got a sizable increase in funding, from $75 million to $117.3 million from the lottery.
  • $13 million extra gets pulled from Indian gaming revenue for textbooks and classroom materials.
  • An additional $300 per student with disabilities, bringing funding to $4,442.34.
  • There’s also an extra $25 per student for academically gifted kids, to $1,339.14.
Buses heading to Baldwin Elementary in Hope Mills. Photo by Gerry Dincher via Flickr (Creative Commons)

2) Education test programs get more time.

  • A pay-per-performance program that’s testing ways to pay teachers differently based on how good they are will now have another 5 years. VIrtual charter schools
  • Virtual charter schools get 4 more years.
  • 19 more counties get access to teacher assistant tuition reimbursement program that pays people back as they pursue becoming licensed teachers.

3) Teachers new and old get nifty little incentives.

Veteran teachers (with at least 25 years of experience) get a one-time $385 bonus. On the other end of the line, aspiring teachers in the state’s Teaching Fellows program get more coaching and training — to the tune of $2,000 for teachers going to low-income districts and $1,000 for the rest.

4) North Carolina continues to bet on principals to lead change.

Principals are getting an even bigger raise than the teachers. The pay program is also geared toward performance, with big pay differences between principals leading schools that are meeting student growth.

Principals at high-performing schools (as measured by growth, not overall achievement) also can get big bonuses.

The latest principal salary schedule. It’s significantly higher than last year’s, which is on page 57 here.

There’s also language codifying a training program for principals. It allocates $4.2 million per year that will go toward a “Transforming Principal Preparation Grant Program.”

5) Early childhood education continues to get attention.

While it doesn’t go as far as a bill proposed by N.C. Sen. Jeff Jackson, the budget also puts more money toward pre-K.

[Longleaf story: Is N.C. ready to pour more money into early childhood education?]

The N.C. Pre-K program gets another $9.3 million next year and $18.7 million in 2020-21.

There is also an interesting tweak to the Smart Start program, run through the North Carolina Partnership for Children. That organization is now authorized to spend money on fundraising — as much as 1 percent of its budget.

6) The state’s film incentives got strengthened.

Projects used to have to spend at least $5 million to qualify for some film credits. That gets reduced to $3 million for movies destined for theaters and $1 million for TV movies.

The max award also got raised from $5 million to $7 million for movies, and from $9 million to $12 million for TV series.

7) North Carolina will forgive loans for law enforcement and corrections careers.

Modeled roughly on the popular Teaching Fellows program, the new budget creates a few innovative new program that will incentivize peple to join high-demand careers.

The new “North Carolina Criminal Justice Fellows Program” will offer forgivable loans of $3,152 per year for people pursuing Applied Associate Degrees in Criminal Justice at community colleges. These are forgiven after 4 years.

Potential State Highway Patrol recruits can also get forgivable loans up to $36,000 for the law enforcement training they need to qualify. While most patrolmen come from police departments and already have it, this opens up another avenue.

More toll lane oversight. Must submit report 90 days in advance. No state money for light rail unless the rest of the funding is lined up.

8) Cities can now spend property tax money on schools.

While this directly enables the municipally sponsored charter schools that the town of Matthews wants, this also opens things up for cities to put money where their mouth is on education.

For years, city officials have lobbied for more school funding but passed the buck to counties when it comes to actually paying up. Now they’ll have no excuse.

9) North Carolina becomes more military friendly.

The budget includes a few minor tweaks to help service members. Military personnel on active duty get extra time to claim lottery prizes.

Children in military families could also now register for school or enter charter lotteries before they physically get to the state if they know they’re coming.

Paratroopers at Fort Bragg. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Charles Crail/XVIII Abn. Corps PAO via Flickr (Creative Commons).

10) State employees get five extra vacation days.

Enjoy!

11) There’s a decent bit of pork.

Some slabs of it appear more useful than others.

  • UNC Pembroke gets $3 million to study prevention of pre-term labor.
  • Southern Guilford High School gets $60,000 to finish animal science project through Future Farmers of America.
  • A bunch of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools get to share in $200,000 through DonorsChoose to fund teacher requests.
  • The state’s Seafood Marketing Office gets $25,000 to brand N.C. oysters.
  • A nonprofit called Cross Trail Outfitters gets $250,000. They’re a Christian program that leads kids in the outdoors.

12) ALE agents are now charged with enforcing youth access to tobacco laws.

This will be super interesting to see how it plays out.

13) Parents can now use 529 accounts for K-12 private school.

This was enabled by a federal law change but now gets codified in state law. Financial advisers had been telling families to hold off until this was done.

In other tax news, you now get an automatic state tax return extension if you get a federal one.

The budget also includes a provision to lower taxes on “modified risk tobacco product.” The feds haven’t approved any yet, but snus and e-cigs are trying to get this designation.

13) More oversight at the State Board of Education.

I’m not sure what prompted this, but we’ll now get a record of who votes what way. Before, the board could take voice votes. Now the State Board of Education must use roll call votes and each vote is recorded.

14) There is no “ban on visa workers.”

You may have seen some headlines about a ban on H-1B visas in the budget. This is misleading.

What the provision actually does is prevents companies from using visa workers in calculating new jobs created for their state economic incentives. This pushes companies to hire more people from North Carolina.

Cover photo by Donald Lee Pardue via Flickr (Creative Commons)

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