@NCCapitol

@NCCapitol

Senate leaders defend education cuts

Posted May 29, 2014 9:47 a.m. EDT
Updated May 29, 2014 12:09 p.m. EDT

— Senate leaders Thursday morning outlined cuts in K-12 spending that will cover most of proposed teacher raises in their 2014-15 budget.

On Wednesday, they unveiled a proposed $465 million teacher salary increase proposal but declined to explain how they would pay for it.

Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, told the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday that budget writers "took about $390 million out of K-12 to put into the teacher salary."

Of that total, $233 million comes from cuts to teaching assistants in second- and third-grade classrooms. TAs in kindergarten and first grade would remain funded.

"That's just the way it is," Tillman said. 

"Bless their hearts, I love them," he added, but "the research is cloudy" on whether TAs are effective in second and third grade.

Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, pointed out that the two-year budget passed last year included the TA cuts.

Sen. Tommy Tucker, R-Union, said counties or school districts could use their own funding to cover second- and third-grade TAs if they choose.

"(Districts) have $678 million cash on hand" statewide, Tucker said. "That's more cash on hand than the state has."

The plan uses $56 million in excess lottery revenue for teacher pay, replacing $56 million in state funding. 

Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake, asked whether budget writers have begun to consider lottery revenue as "recurring" funding. 

Tillman said they have. "We've got a fairly good track record of lottery proceeds," he said.

The proposal also ends state funding for driver education classes beginning in 2015, a $28 million cut.

The Department of Public Instruction would also see a $15 million cut, which is 30 percent of its state funding.

Tillman acknowledged that the deep cut could require shuttering whole sections of the agency, but said many local districts can now perform the consulting and support services for which they used to rely on DPI.

"As far as I can tell, they [DPI] don't teach a single child," he said. 

Other savings come from an adjustment to the projected number of K-12 students next year, revising downward earlier projections of student growth.

Overall, K-12 funding would be about $66 million more than last year. 

"The bottom line is, there's an increase in spending in K-12, a small increase," Tillman said. "We have added money."

State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said the cuts would further harm schools already reeling from years of underfunding. 

"These cuts will eliminate essential services for teachers and schools and leave teachers with more duties and less support," she said. "North Carolina deserves better than this."