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McCrory casts a wider net as he looks for fixes to the education budget

A couple of days ago, I reported that Gov. McCrory was reaching out to state school superintendents to figure out a couple of fixes to the education budget that he proudly signed last week. As it turns out, he’s casting a wider net — on Monday, his education staff also met with staff at the N.C. Department of Public Instruction to brainstorm solutions, according to Dr. June Atkinson.

“I appreciate the Governor’s office reaching out to us…to find a solution,” Atkinson told N.C. Policy Watch yesterday afternoon.

If you’re not up to speed, here’s what’s at issue: educators and advocates around the state are up in arms over two provisions (among many) in the new state budget that they say hurt education: a) the move to stop funding local school districts on the basis of student enrollment growth, and b) a complicated allocation of money that puts funds that would normally go to teacher assistants in a pot for teachers — but school districts have the “flexibility” to move that money around (although some say that’s a false choice).

As a result, local school districts will have great difficulty budgeting and hiring necessary personnel to accommodate more students in their classrooms—and at the same time, they are faced with either instituting a 22 percent cut to their teacher assistants or saving those positions by taking money out of their funding streams designated for teacher positions.

Atkinson said no solution was ultimately crafted between DPI and the Governor’s office on Monday with regard to the enrollment funding issue.

“We are still thinking about how to get to a place where we can help schools do the planning they need to do, like hiring more teachers when enrollment goes up,” said Atkinson. “There’s no solution yet, short of the General Assembly reinstating annual student growth as a part of the base budget.”

McCrory agreed to sign the budget, in part, because it preserved teacher assistants. But local media reports already indicate TA jobs are disappearing as local districts prepare for the upcoming school year, thanks to state budget cuts.

And the provision in the budget that stops funding school districts based on enrollment growth received very little attention from lawmakers as they debated the budget — perhaps because they only had hours to digest it before voting.

Gov. McCrory’s office hasn’t returned inquiries seeking comment on this issue.

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