Note: NC Policy Watch education reporter Billy Ball is blogging about the class-size portion of the bill.
Over the past week, House Bill 90, originally titled “NC Truth in Education,” earned a new nickname: Frankenstein’s monster.
The difference between the literary Frankenstein’s monster and the legislative one is that the former had translucent skin that, as Mary Shelley wrote, “barely disguised the workings of the arteries and muscles underneath.” The latter had no such transparency. In fact, fashioned behind closed doors, the clunky legislation fused class-size requirements, changes to elections and ethics boards, and a rebuke of the governor’s deal over the Atlantic Coast Pipeline into a form likely unrecognizable even to its creators.
Attached at the last minute, the environmental portion of the legislation reallocates $57.8 million from a mitigation fund related to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. In late January, Gov. Roy Cooper announced he had brokered a deal with Dominion Energy, co-owner of the controversial project with Duke Energy, to create the fund. Its purpose is to offset the pipeline’s many environmental impacts, jumpstart economic development in eastern North Carolina, as well as create renewable energy projects. Now, the bill requires the money to be used instead for local school districts in the eight counties along the pipeline’s 160-mile route through eastern North Carolina.
“That money could be used for natural gas distribution lines and creating jobs,” said Rep. Darren Jackson, a Wake County Democrat who voted against the bill. “Now we’re killing jobs” in rural North Carolina.
It’s also possible that by diverting money to the eight school districts (the complex formula to calculate the amounts should be an Algebra test question) that lawmakers could justify cutting education funding in the future. That could backfire because the deal between the state and Dominion is not binding. Since it’s voluntary, Jackson noted, “they can walk away without putting any money into the fund.”
Last week, Sen. Erica Smith, a Democrat representing Northampton County, where the pipeline will enter the state, said it was “unfair” to tie the fund to a much-needed class-size fix. Smith compared the trade-off to “keeping your arm but losing your leg.”