Local Politics

State cuts expected to hit classrooms

Posted February 10, 2009 6:02 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

State budget

— State lawmakers have been trying to steer clear of cutting education spending as they try to erase a $2 billion budget deficit, but analysts said Tuesday that likely will be impossible.

Education and Medicaid account for about 70 percent of the state's general fund budget, and analysts with the Fiscal Research Division of the General Assembly said filling the $2 billion hole in the current budget will eventually require digging into those accounts.

"You can't cut more than 10 percent (of the $21 billion budget) and not approach every part of state government. Everybody will feel the pain," Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand, D-Cumberland, said.

"We're going to have to keep educating our kids. They don't have time to wait for (the economy) to come back up," said Rep. Becky Carney, D-Mecklenburg.

Over the past eight years, North Carolina's education budget has grown by more than 50 percent, to $11.5 billion, as the state's population has grown.

Some Republicans said wasteful spending could be cut from the education budget, and money could be used more efficiently.

"I'm not sure we're getting a bang for our buck in our educational process. We've seen a 30 percent dropout rate. We see we're not keeping up with test scores very well," said Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake.

Rand said the state has no control over the number of students in public school, but lawmakers can control spending on teacher salaries and the size of classes in schools.

"Those are things within our control and things we'll really have to look hard at," he said, though he declined to elaborate on possible cuts.