Raleigh, N.C. — State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson told lawmakers Tuesday that all of the money they set aside for literacy training in last year's budget would go to public schools for instructional needs, adding that Senate leaders had incomplete information about how the Department of Public Instruction was using its money.
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger criticized Atkinson and DPI in a letter Monday, saying that he believed documents show money was being misspent.
Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, pressed for answers to those allegations Tuesday during a meeting of the General Assembly's Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Education.
"I just want to ask you publicly that no monies ... that were appropriated to go specifically to the classroom will be used to fund any type of bureaucratic or personnel growth or re-labeling at the Department of Public Instruction," Barefoot asked Atkinson, who had come to the meeting in order to speak about other issues.
Atkinson said that the money in question was being used as required by the budget.
"The $62 million appropriated by the General Assembly, including almost (a $3.8 million) increase, will go to our schools to teach children how to read," Atkinson said.
The only exception to that, she said, was that some of the money would go to support a literacy assessment software program used in all school districts for which the state pays.
Berger's letter cited a series of letters from DPI to the Office of State Management and Budget, from OSBM back to the department and a third in which DPI asks further questions of OSBM.
In that sequence, the educators do ask if they could divert some of the extra reading money to support positions at the department. However, Atkinson said there was further correspondence that makes clear her office was handling the budget cuts as directed.
On Jan. 8, DPI Chief Financial Officer Phillip Price sent OSBM Director Lee Roberts an email and attached memo outlining how the department would undertake the budget cuts ordered by lawmakers. That attached memo showed that the department was cutting the equivalent of 18 positions.
Outside Tuesday's meeting, Atkinson said those were unfilled positions that the department was eliminating. She added that, when she formally responds to Berger's letter, her department will include the specific positions that were cut.
During the meeting, Barefoot asked about a department reorganization that appeared to shift jobs and job titles under the literacy umbrella.
"I want to make sure that none of the money that supposed to go to children in the classroom is diverted away into new six-figure positions and the Department of Public Instruction," Barefoot said.
Atkinson replied, "Again, I give you my assurance."
She said regarding one new position Barefoot asked about that it was a matter of a title change and not that a new position being created.
As for the literacy money, she said, part is already in the process of being sent to schools for one-on-one coaching. The rest, she said, will be distributed by the State Board of Education this week for summer reading camps.