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N.C. lawmakers intervene in Union County school funding battle

education-early-childhoodNorth Carolina lawmakers may have set a new precedent for handling the all-too-common squabbles between local school boards and county commissioners over cash, and not everyone is going to be happy about it.

As the N.C. Insider reports today, legislators in the state House gave their approval to a rather narrow bill Thursday that specifically forbids the board of education in predominantly conservative Union County from suing its county board over school funding this year.

From the Insider:

After a lengthy debate cut off by a procedural maneuver, the House gave final approval along party lines, 79-35, to a local bill prohibiting the Union County Board of Education from suing the county Board of Commissioners over school funding for the 2016-17 fiscal year. The bill also requires the two boards to conduct joint meetings during the coming fiscal year to assess school capital needs and develop a five-year plan to meet those needs.

The Senate already approved the bill, which becomes law because the local bill doesn’t require the governor’s signature. The Union County delegation in the House, all Republicans, supported the bill. Rep. Dean Arp, R-Union, described it as a “narrowly tailored” one year moratorium on lawsuits that mandates the school board and county commissioners meet to try to reconcile their differences.

“It is time for leadership, not time for litigation,” said Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, in supporting the measure. But Democrats argued that the state shouldn’t inject itself into a local political struggle.

Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, said the bill sends a strong message to boards of county commissioners across the state that they don’t have to negotiate with their school boards. Lawsuits filed by school boards bring both parties to the table, she said.

Its worth noting that Arp, the Union County rep who voted for the measure this week, is the former chair of the Union Board of Education.

School and county leaders in the growing suburban district just outside Charlotte have clashed many times over education funding in the last decade. And with some education advocates pointing out that a greater deal of the cost burden for schools is falling on local governments rather than the state, Thursday’s vote is pivotal because such arguments have become a fixture across the state.

Indeed, even in progressive districts with a reputation for financial commitment to schools, it can be a problem, as The News & Observer reported Thursday.

The paper reported that, in Orange County, commissioners appear ready to strike a compromise on a budget plan that directs more than $5 million in additional funds to local schools, although the agreement is still nearly $3 million short of what school leaders wanted.

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