Education

New school year gets underway without a state budget

The start of the new school got underway Monday without a new state budget.

Democrats and Republicans remain locked in a stalemate over the state’s biennium spending plan, which is hung up mostly over Medicaid expansion.

Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union

State Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican who co-chairs the House K-12 Education Committee, said starting the school year without a budget is problematic for the state’s 116 school districts.

“This is a terrible situation for education, to not have a budget,” Horn said. “Not only do we have school supplies issues, we have a large number of after school programs and school support programs that are funded with non-recurring money and we have no non-recurring money without an active budget.”

Until a budget is approved, the state will continue to operate at last year’s spending levels.

Horn said educators haven’t begun to complain yet about the lack of money for after school programs or school supplies.

“They’re just now starting school,” Horn said. “I suspect we will start hearing from them and I hope they scream loud and clear. This state needs an enacted budget. It is critical for school supplies, it’s critical for after school programs, it’s critical for professional development and training.”

The budget impasse could go on for a while. State Democrats and Republicans have dug in on the Medicaid expansion issue, and neither side appears willing to bend.

Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the Republican’s $24 billion budget. Cooper has said he won’t approve a new budget until GOP leaders agree to expand Medicaid.

Republicans aren’t budging, either. They are expected to begin approving parts of the budget this week, such as proposed pay raises for state employees, through a piece-meal approach that would force Cooper to use his veto power.

That wouldn’t get Republicans leaders the budget they want, but it could potentially score political points for the GOP because Cooper would be seen as standing in the way of worker pay raises.

To break the budget stalemate, Horn said he’s willing to move closer to Cooper’s proposed teacher pay raise.

He believes the Republican leadership would also bend some on teacher pay raises to get a budget approved.

“Let’s do it,” Horn said. “I’d be happy to move closer to the governor’s [Cooper] position on teacher pay. “That’s an existing thing and if that gets the budget signed, let’s do it, and I would suggest that my colleagues would say, OK, let’s do it.”

When asked if Cooper would consider such an offer, Ford Porter, the governor’s spokesman, said the GOP needs to make an offer.

“I think we would need to see the proposal,” Porter said. “Everything is on the table.”

Under Cooper’s compromise spending plan, teacher pay would increase by an average of 8.5 percent over the biennium. The GOP’s conference committee plan calls for an average teacher pay raise of 3.8 percent and a one-time bonus.

For a couple of weeks in April, the big budget story involved proposals to help teachers buy classroom supplies.

Cooper’s budget and the conference budget approved by Republican lawmakers include $30 million over the biennium to help teachers purchase classroom supplies.

“The money has been appropriated,” Horn said. “It’s there and all ready to go but the governor [Cooper] won’t let it go.”

The budget battle will undoubtedly slow school construction in North Carolina.

The GOP and Democrats are at odds over how to pay for school construction projects. Republicans favor a pay-as-you-go scheme and Cooper a compromise option that would include money from a statewide bond referendum and a version of the GOP’s pay-as-you-go proposal.

The governor originally supported a $3.9 billion bond referendum.

The one thing that’s certain is the longer it takes for lawmakers to resolve the budget impasse, the longer it will take to get money in the hands of school districts to pay for what Democrats Republicans agree are much-needed construction and renovation projects.

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