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Given limitations by governor’s office, N.C. school leaders scale back budget wishlist

EducationOne day after North Carolina public school leaders recognized a massive gap between schools’ identified needs and the amount state budget leaders for Gov. Pat McCrory would entertain, members of the State Board of Education approved a much more modest wishlist Thursday morning.

The budget expansion plan, part of the preliminary stages of the state’s development of a 2017-2019 biennial budget, dramatically scales back the board’s $517 million request to meet the roughly $173 million limitation on spending increases pushed by McCrory’s Office of State Budget and Management (OSBM).

It comes after the state office seemingly reversed course on a controversial order to public school officials [1] that they, like all other state departments preparing for the biennial budget, offer a proposal that would include a 2 percent cut, or about $173 million in reduced spending.

State budget leaders described that request for the schools as a budget exercise intended to highlight departments’ top priorities, but backed off after school leaders blasted the governor’s office for pushing austerity for reportedly underfunded schools at a time of budget surplus. [2]

Yet while the budget expansion plan approved unanimously by state board members Thursday includes all of the top priorities identified by schools [3]—funds for teaching assistants, classroom supplies, special needs children, low-performing districts and more—all are dialed back significantly in the final numbers [4].

Gov. Pat McCrory

Gov. Pat McCrory

School staff said the emphasis in the new plan was to offer at least some funding for each of the needs prioritized by the state board.

State board leaders described the plan approved Thursday as something of a compromise, but noted that the spending package will be transmitted to McCrory’s office along with a full list of the schools’ $517 million in needs, which does not include the board’s separate request for 1 percent raises for teachers and administrator.

The raises would cost an additional $69 million, according to school finance chiefs. School board members say they hope to raise teacher pay in the state to tops in the southeast. Currently, the state’s teacher pay, which ranks 41st nationally, places ninth out of 12 states in the southeast, according to the nonpartisan National Education Association. [5]

Those rankings do not factor in raises approved this year by McCrory and lawmakers, which were promised to lift teacher pay, including local supplements, above $50,000. However, based on a report from the N.C. Justice Center’s Kris Nordstrom Wednesday [6], preliminary numbers indicate the state has fallen short of that mark (Note: The Justice Center [7] is the parent nonprofit for N.C. Policy Watch).

Board member Wayne McDevitt said that, with much of the 2017-2019 budget negotiations still months away, “context” is important to consider when it comes to assessing the plan approved Thursday.

“It’s not necessarily the document we will be advocating for when it gets to the legislature,” said McDevitt. “Ours in fact will be larger hopefully.”