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Cuts would hit education, not teaching jobs

RALEIGH — North Carolina House budget proposals released Tuesday would cut thousands of school support and administrative posts while largely sparing teachers.
As part of an effort to close an expected $2 billion-plus shortfall, House budget-writers proposed cutting public schools by 9 percent from levels needed to continue services at current levels.
Community colleges would see tuition increases for students and a 10 percent cut in funding. The University of North Carolina system’s funding would be cut 16 percent.
Legislators representing Rowan County as part of the new Republican majority say the education cuts aren’t as severe as they could have been.
“The cuts look better than what we’ve heard and what we thought,” said N.C. Rep. Fred Steen. “We’re still trying to prioritize education as best we can, and we’ve been trying to keep the funding level as high as we could.”
In total, cuts to education in the House draft are nearly double what Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue had proposed in her budget. The state would appropriate $10.66 billion (a 10.5 percent cut), compared to $11.25 billion proposed by the governor and $11.91 billion requested to maintain services.
Neither Steen nor Rep. Harry Warren, Rowan’s other state House member, sit on the subcommittee that drafted the education budget. Steen is a member of the appropriations committee and its transportation subcommittee.
Both said provisions have been removed from Perdue’s budget that would have shifted $350 million in education expenses, including school bus replacement costs and workers’ compensation claims, to districts and counties.
The House budget reduces funding for the Smart Start preschool education and health initiative by 20 percent — four times as much as Perdue’s recommendation of 5 percent.
Dr. Olson Huff, board chair of the North Carolina Partnership for Children, said in a press release that it is “poor economic policy” to cut funding for early childhood education far more than other levels.
“This proposal not only short-changes the youngest children and their families, it also flattens our future prospects as a state,” Huff said. “Research shows that Smart Start not only makes children better learners throughout schools, it helps sustain thousands of jobs.”
The House budget also moves the More at Four program to the Division of Childhood Development under the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
Warren said this scenario is better than others legislators had considered, including combining the two programs or even eliminating one or both of them.
“I’m very pleased at this point that they’re two independent programs, they’re there and they’re funded,” Warren said.
The proposals are part of a series of ideas introduced to cut spending throughout state government as lawmakers work to close a budget gap of more than $2 billion for the year beginning in July. Education makes up nearly 60 percent of the state budget.
The state’s local school boards this year had to share a $305 million cut in funding, with each district deciding where to find savings. Local school districts would have to find another $148 million in cuts over the next two years – with cuts of classroom teachers off limits.
“This is an attempt… to fund the classroom and save as many teacher jobs as we can,” Warren said. “The teacher allotment was covered.”
He said he regrets that there had to be any cuts to education in the budget, but the state needs a long-term solution to deal with recurring deficits. Warren added that the House budget is just a draft and will most likely be changed.
In a press release, State Board of Education Chairman Bill Harrison said this budget would push the state’s public schools closer to the bottom of the nation in per pupil funding.
“I am concerned for local superintendents who will have to find ways to meet students’ educational needs with fewer school-based staff,” Harrison said.
Officials with the Rowan-Salisbury School System will meet soon to talk about how the House draft budget would affect local schools, said Public Information Officer Rita Foil.
Tuition for community college students would rise over current rates by $10 per hour in the first year and $12.50 per hour in the second. The continuing education fee would stay flat in the first year but increase by $5 in the second.
Carol Spalding, president of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, said the college has been planning for the state funding cuts, but they will be “onerous to implement.”
“We are concerned about support for the community colleges that are serving more students than ever,” Spalding said. “As the universities cut their budgets, those students will come to us, and we’ll need to have more capacity to serve that group.”
The cuts to the public university system would cost about 3,200 positions, including 1,500 faculty jobs, across the 16 UNC college campuses. The cuts would mean more than 9,000 fewer course offerings and larger classes, but no tuition increases.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.

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