Lawmakers find another $83M for education

Posted June 11, 2010 5:15 p.m. EDT
Updated June 14, 2010 11:25 a.m. EDT

State budget

— State lawmakers have allocated an extra $83 million to education, which could lessen the severity of proposed cuts to the University of North Carolina system, UNC President Erskine Bowles said Friday.

The additional money for education was freed up by shifting money from other budget areas, such as Natural and Economic Resources, Justice and Public Safety and Health and Human Services, a spokesman for Speaker Joe Hackney said.

Bowles said he met with several key House members Thursday after a UNC Board of Governors meeting in which he sounded the warning bell over proposed cuts.

Last week, the House passed a spending plan that would cut the UNC system budget by $147 million in the 2010-11 school year, more than doubling the cuts planned by lawmakers when they passed the two-year state budget last summer.

Such cuts could cost the universities 1,700 positions, including hundreds of faculty jobs, and would prevent enrollment from growing by more than 1 percent at the system's 16 higher education campuses, Bowles said.

He said Friday that he was relieved after lawmakers told him that UNC would be given priority for funding as the House and Senate work out differences in their budgets.

"I remain concerned, but I am far, far more hopeful," he said. "It would be a shame to destroy the university and the academic portion of the university for what should be, hopefully, a short-term recessionary problem."

Rep. Ray Rapp, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said public schools and community colleges also would receive part of the additional education funding.

Bowles also has asked lawmakers to give the UNC system the power to furlough workers so campuses can avoid layoffs. Furloughs could be used around holidays and would give chancellors an extra tool to minimize the effect of budget cuts on students, he said.

"We can save about $8 million a day with a furlough. That's a lot of money," he said.

Deric West, a rising junior at North Carolina Central University, said budget concerns on campus are so intense that teachers now talk about them in class.

"They tell us that they might be cutting the budget," West said. "I'm very concerned."

It's unclear whether lawmakers will approve the furlough authority, but Bowles said he believes House members will do away with a funding limit in the budget that would create an enrollment cap at UNC campuses.

Rapp said lawmakers never intended to limit the number of students the system could enroll.