Calling it a “Band-Aid” for North Carolina’s mounting school construction needs, state House lawmakers on a key K-12 panel advanced bipartisan legislation Tuesday that calls for a $1.9 billion school construction bond referendum next fall.
House Bill 866 passed with support from Republicans and Democrats in the House Education Committee, a rarity in the polarized state legislature these days.
The bill also had the backing of public school advocates, although multiple officials emphasized that the proposal to borrow $1.9 billion assuages only a portion of the state’s estimated $8 billion in school construction demands over the next five years.
“When you’re debating and discussing, please don’t forget about our students,” said Michael Bracy, superintendent of Jones County Public Schools, an eastern North Carolina school district with one of the most anemic tax bases in the state, making school construction funding a particular challenge.
In North Carolina, state government typically is charged with funding classroom needs. Capital costs, more or less, fall to local government. However, given North Carolina’s well-documented need for school buildings, state lawmakers are mulling the first statewide bond to assist in K-12 construction in more than two decades, a proposal Bracy described as a “game-changer” for school districts Tuesday.
“It is truly an economic driver for the state of North Carolina,” added Bracy.
Going forward, the legislation will still require the vetting of a House finance committee, although it enjoys broad support from parties in Raleigh, a point on display during Tuesday’s education panel.
“In rural North Carolina, there is a great need, especially after Hurricane Matthew,” said Rep. Charles Graham, a Democrat representing Robeson County.
Republican committee member Jimmy Dixon, meanwhile, said he “enthusiastically” backs the bond, although multiple GOP lawmakers noted a pending proposal for a study of K-12 funding passed the House earlier this session and is awaiting action in the state Senate.