The Senate appropriations committee hearing on Tuesday revealed highly controversial areas for fund reductions: primarily with the elimination of funding to Planned Parenthood, reduction of teacher’s assistant positions, and the consolidation of the More at Four and Smart Start Programs.
Democrats on the committee were clearly unused to having little say in the process, and offered several doomed amendments in an effort to highlight their disagreements with the proposed budget.
The Senate plan’s rejection of federal money for Planned Parenthood was the source of many of the committee’s conflicts. The Senate Budget Money Report showed a savings of $50,000 in the elimination of state funding to Planned Parenthood.
At the appropriation hearing, Senator Elllie Kinnaird (Dem- 8th District) proposed an amendment to the budget that allowed for federal funding for Planned Parenthood to pass through the state government.
Senator Louis Pate (Rep – 5th District) promptly responded asking for rejection of the amendment by saying, “Taxpayers’ money going to Planned Parenthood is taxpayers’ money regardless of whether it comes from the federal level or the state level.”
The motion to amend the budget was denied.
Senator Linda Garrou (D-Forsyth) was disappointed by the decision saying that it was anti-woman.
Another source of tension came from the Senate proposal to cut funding for teachers’ assistants in grades 1-3. The Senate budget would use some of the savings to fund an additional 1,100 teaching positions in these grades in order to reduce class sizes. The bill would also introduce merit pay for teachers and reduce teacher paperwork. Total public school funding in the bill is 3.3% less than Governor Perdue’s proposal.
Senator Jerry Tillman (R-Montgomery, Randolph) was enthusiastic about the proposed reforms.
“We’ve been talking reform in this state for a long time,” said Tillman, “But we’re beginning the steps to reform in education in North Carolina.”
Senate Democrats were hostile to the proposal.
Garrou angrily referred to the proposed reforms as “a crumb thrown to our students as we’re looking at one of the largest cuts to public school in history.”
Garrou introduced an amendment that would reverse the cuts to teaching assistants. Garrou mistakenly claimed that these cuts would harm kindergarten teachers’ ability to control classrooms.
“Right now, we’ve got a teacher and teacher’s assistant and I don’t know how many of you remember kindergarten,” Garrou said, “but the kindergarten teacher often had to help people who wet their pants go to the restroom.”
The Senate budget preserves funding for kindergarten teacher assistants.
When Senator Harry Brown (R-Jones, Onslow) replied with the fact that he did not even attend kindergarten, Garrou audibly muttered, “It shows.” Garrou’s amendment failed on a party-line vote.
The consolidation of the Smart Start and More at Four programs also brought howls of protest from the Democratic members of the committee.
Cleary annoyed with the proposal, Senator Blue (D-Wake) spent several minutes recounting his personal involvement in setting up the program, saying that he “claimed some of the credit” for its supposed success.
For the first time in 104 years, the Senate Democrats have found themselves out of the majority in regards to decision-making, and they are not thrilled with their position. The Republican majority denied amendment after amendment proposed by the Democratic Senators.
The Republican Senators are determined not to waste a drop of government money through unnecessary and ineffective programs that don’t contribute to education quality or lead to the destruction of social mores.
— Regina Conley and Neal Inman