Politics & Government

NC says $688 million needed for schools to get enough nurses, counselors and cops

Two days after a student was fatally shot at a North Carolina high school, state education officials say they want $71 million more next year to increase school safety.

Staff at the state Department of Public Instruction said Wednesday that it would require around $688 million more in state funding to hire enough additional nurses, social workers, counselors, psychologists and school resource officers to reach nationally recommended ratios for North Carolina’s public schools.

DPI plans to request $71.5 million more for those new positions in next year’s state budget to begin moving the state toward the national averages over the next eight to nine years. The State Board of Education included the $71.5 million Thursday in its 2019-21 budget request that will be sent to Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget office.

“There’s been a lot of conversations around support positions that are needed in our school districts, both for the mental and physical health and safety of our students,” Cecilia Holden, state legislative affairs director for the state board, said at Wednesday’s meeting at N.C. Central University in Durham.

Support has increased for hiring additional support staff and police officers in schools following a wave of school shootings such as the February massacre in Parkland, Fla., which left 17 people dead.

North Carolina experienced its own school shooting on Monday when a 16-year-old student was fatally shot at Butler High School near Charlotte.

A 16-year-old student at Butler High has been charged with first-degree murder. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Clayton Willcox previously said the shooting “began with bullying that escalated out of control.”

Earlier on Wednesday, state board members heard a report in which 51 percent of high school students said they’ve seen other students being bullied at their school. The report also found that 14 percent of high school students reported being electronically bullied.

In the face of the school safety concerns, state lawmakers approved an extra $35 million this school year in one-time money for school safety efforts That’s less than the $130 million Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper had asked the legislature to spend.

Rep. Nelson Dollar of Cary, a top state budget writer, has previously said legislators are on a statewide “listening tour” to get input on how to expand school safety funding in next year’s budget.

On Wednesday, state officials shared data showing how far North Carolina is from reaching the nationally recommended averages for school support staff.

There’s one school nurse for every 1,076 students instead of for every 750 students.

There’s one school psychologist for every 1,857 students instead of for every 700 students;

There’s one school counselor for every 351 students instead of for every 250 students;

There’s one school resource officer for every 1,209 students instead of for every 1,000 students;

There’s one school social worker for every 1,427 students instead of for every 250 students.

The extra social workers would account for the majority of the $688 million in new funding.

If each school had a nurse, Holden said teachers wouldn’t have to spend an average of 26 minutes a day on student health issues. She said it would free up an hour a day spent by school clerical staff and assistant principals.

Holden told the state board that the initial increase of $71.5 million is a number designed “to get the conversation started and to demonstrate the needs.” State board members agreed that more money is needed for these positions to help schools.

“The budget is a reflection of our values,” said state board member Wayne McDevitt. “The budget request is a statement that reflects what we consider to be priorities.”

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui
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