N.C. House to roll out its education budget Thursday morning

Key budget writers in the N.C. House of Representatives are expected to roll out their proposals for public education funding early Thursday morning.

The news comes after a top House budget writer told Policy Watch last week that the chamber was likely to announce a spending plan that was considerably kinder to public schools than the budget proposed by Senate lawmakers this month.

Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican, is expected to preside over Thursday’s 8:30 a.m. meeting. Last week, Horn said the House budget is more likely to include across-the-board raises for teachers, less severe funding cuts for the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and the restoration of several early-morning cuts to education projects in Democratic-held districts. 

The Senate’s teacher pay plan included an average 3.7 percent raise, but critics said it slighted beginning and veteran teachers, focusing on mid-career educators instead.

“I think the House has a broader view with regard to teachers,” Horn told Policy Watch. “We recognize that our most experienced teachers have gotten the least reward.”

Criticism for the Senate’s $22.9 billion budget plan mounted shortly after its release two weeks ago. Some pointed to new national rankings from the nonpartisan National Education Association that placed North Carolina at 43rd in the U.S. in per-pupil spending in 2017-2018, a slight drop from the previous year, although the state’s teacher pay ranking had risen from 41st to 35th.

Of course, those rankings were not finalized with the Senate’s budget provisions included.

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

Last week, Horn also questioned a controversial Senate plan to slash DPI funding by 25 percent in the coming year. That’s about a $13.1 million cut for the state’s top K-12 agency in 2017-2018, coming on top of more than $19 million in cuts to DPI since 2009.

Democrats and public school advocates say the cuts will be most apparent in poor and low-performing school districts that need the support and intervention provided by DPI. Meanwhile, a recently-retired DPI finance head told Policy Watch the deep cuts would “totally destroy” the agency’s operations. 

Horn said he doesn’t expect House leadership to go along with such a plan.

“We ask DPI to do a lot,” said Horn. “… We want new curriculum. This year, we asked them to teach about suicide prevention. We want you to include all these things in the curriculum. Somebody has to develop that curriculum.”

Signals from House leadership about the budget varied throughout this week, although it seems the chamber will differ from the Senate in their approach to preparing the budget.

Senate GOP leadership was criticized for largely developing their spending package behind closed doors. The chamber publicly released its plan around midnight on June 10, asking committee members to vote on the completed budget just hours later.

House lawmakers, instead, appear to be working the budget through committees first, with more time expected to review the lengthy document. House and Senate leadership have said they hope to complete negotiations on their budget plan by mid-June.

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