NC Budget and Tax Center

Gov. McCrory’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2015 and respective budgets by the House and Senate include significant cost savings from closing and downsizing various correctional facilities. Savings from these changes total around $14.2 million in both the House and Senate budgets and $14.9 million in the Governor’s budget.

Savings generated from these changes could have been used to promote safer communities across the state.  However, lawmakers went down a different path. For instance, Gov. McCrory advocated for state funding for drug treatment courts to be included in the state’s current fiscal year budget. These courts cost a fraction of the nearly $28,000 it cost to keep individuals in prison. However, the final budget passed last year by state policymakers did not include funding for drug treatment courts.

All three budget proposals for fiscal year 2015 – which begin July 1, 2014 – fail to include funding for drug treatment courts. The House and Senate budgets, however, go further and cut funding for programs that promote fair and equitable access to the justice system and safe communities across the state.

Funding cuts to Justice and Public Safety in the House and Senate budgets include:

  • Elimination of the Access to Civil Justice Fund, which supports the representation of poor North Carolinians in civil cases.
  • Reduction of administration funding for Indigent Defense Services, which in part oversees the provision of legal representation to indigent defendants and others entitled to counsel under North Carolina law.
  • Reduction of administration funding for Administration of the Courts

Due to tax changes enacted last year, state policymakers are constrained in major ways. This is effectively a self-imposed budget challenge. Nevertheless, as demonstrated with choices made within the Justice and Public Safety area of the budget, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Budget writers found revenue by making significant changes to the operations of various correctional facilities as well as by cutting state funding for programs that work to enhance the efficacy of the state’s justice system. These state funding cuts would limit service providers’ ability to assist individuals and families in need to legal representation.

What is clear from all three budgets is that state lawmakers are continuing down a dangerous path of more state funding cuts rather than reinvestment as the state recovers from the Great Recession. One can only hope that as budget writers work to negotiate a final budget for the upcoming 2015 fiscal year, state funding is restored for these programs that were put on the chopping block in the House and Senate budgets.

NC Budget and Tax Center

Local schools in North Carolina have more time to decide whether they will adopt a universal school meal program for the upcoming school year. Eligible schools now have until August 31, 2014 to decide whether to adopt community eligibility – the initial deadline was June 30, 2014.

As I‘ve highlighted previously, the Community Eligibility Program (CEP) allows high-poverty schools in North Carolina to eliminate school meal applications and offer breakfast and lunch to all of their students at no charge. Eliminating the stigma associated with the existing free and reduced meal programs offered only to students from low- and moderate-income families helps increase participation rates in school meal programs and helps children learn on full stomachs. Otherwise, students may be reluctant to participate in the free- and reduced-lunch program and go hungry, which can adversely impact their ability to succeed academically.

At least 18 school systems across the state have already committed to adopting CEP for the upcoming school year. Some school districts will adopt CEP district-wide while others plan to adopt CEP in selected schools. Below is a map of local schools districts that plan to adopt CEP, based on news reports and special data requests.

Slide1

Ensuring that more students participate in school breakfast and lunch programs is one way to help promote a quality education for all North Carolina students. Students are inclined to be more focused and attentive, less distracted, and more engaged when they have enough to eat.

The extended August 31, 2014 deadline provides these schools additional time to consider and hopefully opt into the initiative. A listing of all North Carolina school districts and individual schools that are eligible for community eligibility for the 2014-15 school year can be found via the NC Department of Public Instruction.

Visit:http://childnutrition.ncpublicschools.gov/news-events/community-eligibility-provision/

NC Budget and Tax Center

Local communities across North Carolina are already feeling the impact of recent tax policies and budget decisions made by state policymakers. A recent news article quotes a Pitt County commissioner lamenting disapproval with the state pushing off on local governments what they should be funding. Indeed, the tax plan passed last year results in self-imposed budget challenges today that will continue for years ahead, resulting in continued state funding cuts to core public investments that serve as the foundation of economic prosperity.

We at the Budget & Tax Center have traditionally talked about the net revenue loss under the tax plan, but that masks something important that happened when policymakers overhauled the tax code. The tax plan passed last year shifts responsibility for funding core public investments to local governments, in part, by recapturing some of the shared revenue from state sources that went to local governments to meet their obligations.

One example of this shift was the decision to repeal and eliminate the allocation of a portion of corporate income tax revenue dedicated to the School Capital Building Fund (SCB Fund), created in the late 1980s to assist local governments in meeting their public school building capital and technology equipment needs. Prior to the tax change, a portion of revenue generated from the state corporate income tax went to the SCB Fund. That practice ends under the tax plan. Over the next five years, this tax change takes away $382 million from local governments who used the revenue to improve education facilities in their communities. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

Twenty-two (22) days remain for eligible local schools in North Carolina to confirm whether they will adopt a universal school meal program for the 2014-15 school year.

One in five American schoolchildren can’t count on getting enough nutritious food at home. North Carolina can improve this bleak fact by encouraging eligible schools to sign up now for the newly available community eligibility initiative, joining in a proven model already helping to end childhood hunger.

Students in high-poverty schools across North Carolina could potentially benefit from this initiative, which ensures every child in these schools receives two nutritious meals each day so that they are ready to learn all day. Ensuring that children show up in classrooms each day fed and ready to learn means students are inclined to be more focused and attentive, less distracted, and more engaged.

A recent Herald Sun article highlighting Durham Public Schools’ (DPS) universal breakfast program notes that national data show that school districts that provide universal breakfast programs at no cost to students have higher test scores, fewer disciplinary problems and more focused students. In schools that DPS piloted its universal breakfast program, an additional 64,971 breakfast meals were served from the start of school through March 3, compared to the same period the previous school year. DPS’s universal breakfast program also resulted in increased federal and state reimbursement funding. Schools in other states that have adopted universal school meal programs have experienced similar outcomes.

Some local school boards have confirmed their intention to adopt community eligibility for the 2014-15 school year: Jones County Schools, Cherokee County Schools, Hickory City Schools, Hoke County Schools, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Halifax County Schools, Scotland County Schools, Hertford County Schools, and Northampton County Schools are among local schools systems that plan to adopt community eligibility. This is a positive step and it is important that other eligible schools across the Tar Heel state join this initiative that ensures that children are fed and ready to learn.

A listing of all North Carolina school districts and individual schools that are eligible for community eligibility for the 2014-15 school year can be found via the NC Department of Public Instruction website.

Falling Behind in NC, NC Budget and Tax Center

This is the 4th post of a Budget and Tax Center blog series on public services and programs that face cuts in the budget process or have been underfunded in past years. See the other posts here and here and here.

Chances are schools across North Carolina will continue to rely on outdated textbooks and limited resources for classroom supplies for the upcoming school year. The Senate budget approved last week fails to provide additional funding for these two classroom areas in the wake of dramatic state funding cuts to both textbooks and classroom instructional supplies in recent years.

Since the 2009-10 fiscal year, state funding for textbooks has been cut by 81 percent, down from $119 million when adjusted for inflation to around $23 million for the current school year. As for classroom materials and instructional supplies, state funding has been cut by nearly 47 percent since FY 2009-10, down from $90.7 million when adjusted for inflation to around $50 million for the current school year. Local schools systems have been challenged with replacing these state funding cuts with other funding sources or continuing the trend of doing more with fewer resources.

K-12 ed_Textbook & Classroom Supplies
Inadequate state funding for textbooks means the continued use of outdated textbooks, and in some cases schools have resorted to making photocopies from textbooks to ensure that students have learning materials. Diminished funding for classroom instructional materials has meant teachers having to reach into their pockets to buy supplies for classroom instruction.

The decision to not restore funding for textbooks and classroom material and supplies in the Senate budget comes on the heels of policymakers passing a tax plan last year that significantly reduces annual revenue for public investments now and in the years ahead. Policymakers now face huge revenue shortfalls for the current budget as well as for the upcoming 2014-15 fiscal year budget, which are driven by the tax plan passed last year. This foregone revenue could have help boost investments in our public schools.

As House budget writers work to put together their proposed budget, restoring funding for textbooks and classroom supplies would represent a positive step in promoting a quality education for all North Carolina students. Revenue options are available to responsibly demonstrate this commitment. Policymakers should stop the additional income tax cuts slated to go into effect January 2015. Doing so would allow for greater investments in the state’s future workforce, and in turn, the Tar Heel state as a whole.