Local Politics

House eyes deeper education cuts

Posted May 25, 2010 3:16 p.m. EDT
Updated May 25, 2010 7:17 p.m. EDT

— A state House subcommittee on Tuesday recommended reducing education spending by 3.3 percent in the coming year, a far deeper cut than those proposed by either the state Senate or Gov. Beverly Perdue.

The $360.5 million cut proposed by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education compares with a $158.6 million cut in the Senate budget and $239.8 million in Perdue's spending plan.

The subcommittee did recommend funneling an additional $90 million in lottery funds beyond what the Senate offered to hire teachers in early grades next school year.

"We're going to protect the classroom in K-12 as much as possible," said Rep. Ray Rapp, chairman of the subcommittee.

House officials said they want to use some of the savings on education to restore some spending to Department of Health and Human Services programs, but most of the cuts will put the state in position to weather looming revenue issues in 2011-12.

A penny increase to the state sales tax rate that lawmakers passed last year is scheduled to expire at the end of June 2011, and federal economic stimulus money that has helped plug holes in the state budget will run out about the same time. Together, they account for an estimated $2.8 billion in revenue.

The University of North Carolina system could take a big hit in the House budget, with the subcommittee recommending a $107.7 million cut in spending. The Senate budget includes a $9.9 million increase for UNC, while Perdue wanted to increase university spending by $42.7 million.

"This isn't good," UNC Board of Governors Chairwoman Hannah Gage said as she walked the halls of the Legislative Building to lobby lawmakers for more funding.

"We've cut all the fat, and we've begun to cut into the muscle," Gage said. "We'll be cutting faculty. We'll be cutting hundreds and hundreds of jobs, which means students won't get the classes they need."

The House also wants the estimated $34.8 million in revenue generated by the tuition increases lawmakers mandated last year at the system's 16 campuses to revert to the state's General Fund. Both the Senate and Perdue want the tuition money to stay on the campuses to use for financial aid and other needs.

"A family may have to increase their tuition, but their child won't reap the benefits on the campus (under the House plan). That's problematic," Gage said.

The subcommittee also recommended eliminating the discount booster groups receive to pay tuition for out-of-state UNC student-athletes, saving the state $9.4 million.

Senate leaders said they are concerned that deep cuts could cripple the UNC system.

"It's going to be up to the House to convince us maybe we're missing something or maybe they have insight we don't have," said Sen. Tony Foriest, co-chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education and Higher Education.