This series, entitled “Cut This, Go Home,” includes several budget items that should no longer receive taxpayer funding because they fall well outside the legitimate, core functions of government.
This specific article, however, addresses one of the largest sticking points between the House and Senate budget plans: funding for teacher assistants vs. smaller class sizes.
More than 22,000 teacher assistants are employed by North Carolina public schools at an annual cost of around $368 million. In the early 1970s, teacher assistants were put in the classroom to help teach reading. Since then their responsibilities have expanded into other instructional and classroom management areas. Is that a good investment? A review of the research shows no clear connection between the use of teacher assistants and improved student achievement.
Civitas opposes the current House budget plan to add $88.6 million in 2015-16 and 2016-17 to offset the loss of lottery receipts and keep teacher assistant funding at 2014-15 levels.
- If teacher assistants improve student achievement, why are the state’s National Assessment Educational Progress scores flat? Why is the Read to Achieve program needed to boost third-grade reading scores?
- Civitas supports a more effective option: the Senate budget proposal to fund lower class size, improve teacher salaries and hire high-quality teachers.
- The Senate proposal reduces teacher assistant funding by $57.5 million in 2015-16 and $166.1 million in 2016-17. Yet in 2015-16, the teacher assistant allotment would still be $181.5 million.
- North Carolina has invested heavily in teacher assistants. Employment peaked in 2008-09 around 30,000. Since then the total number has fallen by about 8,000.
- Teacher assistants constitute the second largest position category. The $368 million investment is sizeable. How can this policy be justified in light of the mixed research results?
- Thanks in part to the trade-off of teacher assistants for smaller class sizes, the Senate’s budget for K-12 education is $304 million less than House in 2015-16 and $318 million less in 216-17.
- A reduction in dollar amounts does not equate to LEAs losing teacher assistant positions. In 2011 the legislature gave LEAs additional flexibility to spend money on personnel as they wish.
- Legislators have provided schools with an additional $100 million to be used for enrollment growth. Schools can use this money on teacher assistants (or however they see fit).
If raising student achievement is the goal, experience suggests smaller classes and providing better teachers is a more attractive route than paying for teacher assistants.
 See: Teacher Aides and Student’s Academic Achievement, Susan B. Gerber and Jeremy B. Flynn published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis available at: http://epa.sagepub.com/content/23/2/123.short. See also: Teacher Assistants and Student Performance: What Does the Research Say? Education Update, April 2011, Dr. Terry Stoops, Education. Available at: http://www.johnlocke.org/newsletters/research/2011-04-19-3nug9foam3cuonmodb1up4p2h1-edu-update.html