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After Gov. McCrory’s office pushes budget cuts, State Board of Education to weigh spending priorities

2Earlier this month, we reported on a request from Gov. Pat McCrory’s office for a 2 percent budget reduction proposal—about a $173 million cut—for North Carolina public schools.

Now, after relative silence from the State Board of Education, board members are expected to weigh in on their budget priorities for the 2017-2019 biennial budget next week.

School board members, who are appointed by the governor’s office, are being asked by officials with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction to provide feedback on their top spending priorities in the next two years.

Considering frequent complaints of insufficient classroom supplies, poor teacher and administrator pay (the latter of which was detailed in a Policy Watch report this week) and an overall lack of resources in North Carolina’s public school districts (the state ranks just 44th nationally in per-pupil spending, according to the National Education Association), it may be a long list.

However, based on a budget memo from Andrew Heath,  McCrory’s top budget officer, that was obtained by Policy Watch, the governor’s office might be looking for savings.

As DPI Finance Director Philip Price told Policy Watch this month, a 2 percent cut in school funding  could have major impacts for the state’s schools, imperiling thousands of positions for teachers and teaching assistants. Depending on state officials’ approach, such a reduction could also threaten millions in funding for low-wealth counties, transportation, classroom supplies and career and technical education.

“Why do we have to make cuts when we know we need to fund public education in our state?” June Atkinson, superintendent of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, told Policy Watch.

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Heath said McCrory’s budget office is simply following “longstanding and prudent budget development process” in requesting proposals for a 2 percent reduction, although top education officials suggested the request was unusual in a year in which the state has reported a budget surplus.

That said, given the legislature has held the most sway over the school budget in recent years, nothing can be ruled out for the 2017-2019 spending plan until lawmakers have had their say.

Atkinson has said she expects school leaders would consider cutting teaching positions as a last option when developing their budget proposal. State board members could also ultimately decline to turn in a reduced budget, leaving the choice to state lawmakers and McCrory if the budget office follows through on a reduction for schools.

Next week’s monthly state board meeting, held in DPI’s downtown Raleigh HQ, is scheduled to kick off at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 2.  Find the agenda for day one of the two-day meeting here.

Board members are also expected to discuss math standards and administrator pay next week, in addition to a report on the state’s controversial virtual charter school pilot if completed in time.

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