- Nearly two months have passed since Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the state budget approved by the North Carolina House and Senate.
- A 2016 budget provision will fund schools at current levels, minimizing much of the drama of a prolonged budget impasse.
- Current budget provisions do not include money for salary increases or capital projects. However, legislative leaders hope to address those concerns in the coming weeks.
We are only days away from the start of another school year for North Carolina public schools. In late June, the Republican-led state House and Senate put a budget bill on Gov. Cooper’s desk. On June 28, the governor vetoed the bill saying it has the wrong priorities. “We should be investing in public schools, teacher pay and health care instead of more tax breaks for corporations,” declared Cooper.
The budget impasse has dragged on for weeks and it’s anybody’s guess when it will end. So, do North Carolina public schools have a budget and funds to begin a new school year? Yes, but not everything is neat and tidy. Some background is in order.
You could say the state has a budget, but it feels different. What has kept North Carolina state government running smoothly and avoiding many of the severe consequences of budget shutdowns is a provision included in the 2016 state budget. The provision requires, if a new budget is not approved by the beginning of the fiscal year (July 1), the previous year’s recurring funding is carried over into the new fiscal year. That provision allows state agencies to perform most routine responsibilities and allows normal recurring spending to continue. However, new spending for enrollment growth, salary increases or building projects, are not included in the continuation budget.
Will schools be able to handle the influx of new students? For starters, let’s remember the number of new students in North Carolina public schools is down significantly. In 2018, Wake County public schools, North Carolina’s largest school district, added only 42 students. According to Joe Colletti of the John Locke Foundation, new spending for K-12 enrollment growth totals less than one-third of one-tenth of one percent of state spending on education. Total monies for enrollment growth in elementary and secondary schools comes to $3.1 million. The small increase will allow most districts to absorb the costs of additional students with existing funds.
To ensure that programs that require matching state funding are fully funded, the legislature approved, and the governor signed HB 961. Another bill, HB 111, has been introduced to address supplemental appropriations for state agencies. The bill passed the House and is currently under consideration in the Senate.
Hoping to move things forward, Cooper released a compromise budget bill on July 9, which among other things, would increase spending for teachers, public schools and money for Medicaid expansion. While some members expressed interest in some of the provisions, neither the House or the Senate has acted on the bill.
At a press conference to outline a plan to refund taxpayers millions from the state budget surplus, Senate President Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore told reporters the two legislative chambers will be working to identify what sections of the budget are broadly agreed to and working to move those sections in separate bills. The first of these bills include money to help Medicaid transformation and pay raises for state workers, corrections officers and pay raises for teachers. The bills will be working their way through various committees and could be voted on as early as next week.
So as of now, North Carolina lacks an official budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year. However, state government functions, including schools, are funded at last year’s level, at least until a new budget agreement is reached. Medicaid expansion remains the main sticking point in budget negotiations. Simply stated: the governor wants some form of Medicaid expansion for North Carolinians; most Republicans, the party that controls both chambers of the legislature, does not.
Schools will open in the coming weeks in most communities. Even without a new state budget, schools should be able to function; the buses will be running, and teachers will be in classrooms. If all goes as expected, bills to address school building needs and teacher salaries should also be on the governor’s desk shortly. If the governor signs those bills, it will go a long way toward addressing some of our schools’ current needs. If not, it may be a long autumn. We’ll all be watching.
In Part II of this article we’ll compare the budget proposals put forward by the governor, House, and Senate for K-12 education, examining their similarities and differences.