State House and Senate leaders will be looking to bridge wide gaps in their views on how the state should spend its money on education, health and criminal justice.
As expected, no sections of the proposed House and Senate budget proposals match exactly. But chunks of the proposed House budget released Friday show the chambers have significantly different ideas for how public education in the state should look, from pre-kindergarten through college.
The House budget includes a plan to begin offering taxpayer money to low-income families next year to pay children’s private school tuition. The House also restores class-size limits for public school in kindergarten though third grades, a policy the Senate budget abolishes.
In higher education, the House wants to divert some of the least qualified UNC system freshmen to community colleges beginning in 2014 .
The diversion plan, called the N.C. Guaranteed Admission Program, would have students attend a community college for two years and be guaranteed admission as a transfer student to the original UNC campus they had planned to attend. The budget plan subtracts almost $13 million from the UNC system in 2014-15 for the program, and adds $4 million to the community college system.
It’s a new idea, said Jennifer Haygood, chief financial officer for the state Community College System, and the community colleges and the UNC system would have to figure out how to make it work.
But the community colleges have space for more college transfer students, she said, and both UNC and community college officials want a way for more North Carolinians to earn degrees at less taxpayer and student cost.
While many details were released and debated Friday, some of the big picture remains unknown. Budget writers would not give a total for their spending package, or say whether it will include raises for teachers and state employees.
“There are a lot of things we’re working to finalize,” said Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican and a chief House budget writer. The Senate’s $20.6 billion plan, which it passed last month, does not include across-the-board raises for teachers or other state employees. Gov. Pat McCrory put 1 percent raises in his budget proposal.
The House is expected to release its entire budget Sunday and approve it later in the week. House and Senate negotiators would then work out their budget differences.
UNC system takes big hit
In education funding, the UNC system fared the worst. Already committed to efficiencies as part of its strategic plan, the 17 campuses would sustain another big cut, plus a significant tuition increase for out-of-state students.
After double-digit percentage cuts in 2011, UNC’s funding had flattened, but the system recently adopted a five-year plan that called for new investments targeted to pumping up the percentage of degree-holders in North Carolina. Though the House provided some new money for the new priorities, there was more bad news than good news for the universities.
UNC system spokeswoman Joni Worthington didn’t have much to say about the budget, but promised UNC officials will talk next week after it passes.
The controversial voucher plan survived one effort Friday to cut it from the budget.
Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, which has been working for several years to get vouchers approved, praised the move and the bipartisan support it attracted. Though most Democrats oppose vouchers, two Democrats are prominent supporters.
The organization “is extremely pleased that state leaders continue to support the possibility for low-income and working-class children across North Carolina to access schools that could meet their academic needs,” President Darrell Allison said in a statement.
Public Schools First NC, which has been fighting vouchers since the session started, said the plan should not have been rolled into the budget.
“This radical new entitlement program would give hard-earned taxpayer dollars to private and religious schools and would be a major policy shift and already faced significant opposition from Republicans and Democrats alike,”// said Natalie Beyer, a Public School First volunteer board member, in a statement.
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