House GOP rebuffs call for gender, racial diversity on school funding task force

Desks in a classroom.State House Republicans leading the push to assemble a school funding reform task force rejected calls from at least one Democrat Wednesday that lawmakers assure gender and racial diversity on the pivotal task force.

The debate came as House legislators gave their tentative approval to create a task force of 18 lawmakers, although the draft of House Bill 6 will require a third vote of approval from the chamber Thursday.

At that time, lawmakers are expected to hear multiple amendments, including one pushed by Democrats intended to ensure diversity on the panel, which is expected to prepare legislative recommendations for school funding reform by next October.

“Let’s get started on a fundamental revamp of how we fund public education in this state,” said Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican who co-sponsored the bill.

The draft before the House Wednesday does include a handful of concessions that emerged from committee debate on the bill, including promises that the task force assembled by GOP leadership will “reflect geographic and urban/rural diversity,” as well as the guarantee that the panel includes at least one member from the minority party in each chamber.

However, called upon by Rep. Verla Insko, a Democrat from Orange County, to go a step further by making a pledge for gender and racial diversity, Horn described the proposal as “micromanaging.”

“There’s no reason to believe the (House) Speaker and Senate President will not take all those things into consideration,” said Horn.

It’s clear why Insko would seek promises of racial diversity, as some of North Carolina’s poorest counties, with the most high-need schools, have a disproportionate share of minority students.

Legislators authored House Bill 6 after a November report from the General Assembly’s Program Evaluation Division (PED) complained of serious fissures in the state’s complicated method of funding public schools.

That report alleged glaring deficiencies in funding between rich and poor counties, as well as insufficient allocations for students with disabilities and students with limited English proficiency.

However, N.C. Justice Center analyst Kris Nordstrom has argued that ditching the state’s current system could only worsen the divide between poor and wealthy districts.

N.C. Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union

Influential K-12 lawmakers, including Horn, responded to last year’s PED report by declaring an urgent need to either dismantle or patch up the funding system.

And while the task force created by House Bill 6 will have the authority to consider different funding models, members are expected to take up so-called “weighted student-based funding.”

Under this method—rather than relying on separate allocation categories for schools for teachers, classroom supplies and more—the panel would be expected to arrive at a base funding amount for all students layered with various weights for students in need of more services, such as students in low-performing schools.

On Wednesday, Horn compared North Carolina’s current multi-category allotment method to a Rube Goldberg machine.

Despite calls from some General Assembly critics, the task force is not likely to be charged with addressing the overall adequacy of school funding, which has plummeted in national rankings of per-pupil spending in the last decade.

Wednesday’s second reading passed with mostly bipartisan support, although Insko joined seven other Democrats in voting against the draft on the floor.

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