As expected, the N.C. House on Thursday overwhelmingly approved draft legislation launching a school funding task force, but only after Republican backers shot down pleas from Democrats to guarantee fair representation on the pivotal panel from both minorities and Democrats.
“There’s no indication we’re going to get off the tracks,” said Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican who co-sponsored House Bill 6, which is now bound for the state Senate.
The task force, which would include 18 legislators hand-picked by Senate and House leadership, is tasked with devising recommendations for North Carolina’s entangled method of K-12 funding.
In November, a legislative research office panned the system as unfair to poor counties, students with disabilities and children with limited English proficiency, spurring a call for action from both Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly.
The task force, if approved by the Senate, would be expected to complete a report by October 2018 with recommendations for reforming the multi-category school funding system.
Based on committee and House floor debates thus far, there’s clearly bipartisan support for addressing the funding system, but, given the enormous implications for public schools statewide, House Democrats sought pledges that Republican leaders would be mindful of racial and gender diversity when members were tapped.
That’s because some of the state’s most high-need schools and districts have a disproportionate share of minority students.
“You have to be reminded there are others in your society that have something to contribute,” said Rep. Henry Michaux Jr., a Durham Democrat. “We don’t want to keep reminding you.”
Democrats also sought unsuccessfully to wring a promise from Republicans that at least three members of the minority party would be chosen for the key task force, which is expected to begin work this October.
While the draft legislation includes promises to consider both urban and rural leaders, as well as at least one Democrat from each chamber, critics wanted Republicans to go a step further.
“This committee is going to make recommendations,” said Rep. Charles Graham, D-Robeson. “To have a variety of political opinions on that I think would be healthy.”
Meanwhile, House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson and Rep. William Richardson, D-Cumberland, suggested GOP leadership would be violating House rules mandating committee representation reflective of the chamber’s partisan make-up.
“The composition of this task force does not represent all the factions of this state and the teachers of this state,” said Richardson. “This body has not done as it should.”
Jackson added that such an important reform for North Carolina schools would better serve the state if the process had “buy-in” from Democrats and Republicans.
“You’ve got to include us from the beginning,” said Jackson.
But Republican leaders countered that the rules referenced by Democrats only apply to standing and select committees, not the task force convened by House Bill 6.
GOP lawmakers also said Democrats have no evidence that House and Senate leadership would not make fair choices. Speaker Tim Moore said that, given the legislation requires a Democrat from each chamber, there would be at least two on the task force, perhaps three.
Horn, meanwhile, blasted Democrats’ criticism as “micromanaging,” opining that the chamber was spending too much time discussing the task force’s composition. “We just need to get on with it,” said Horn.
The special legislative panel is expected to mull ways to reconstruct a system built on multiple funding categories for school needs. Some have argued that public schools would be better served by setting a base allotment for each student, along with tiers of additional cash for students with more needs.
Policy Watch will track this key legislation as it moves through the Senate.