CMS Superintendent Heath Morrison concerned with ‘radical’ education funding change

08/07/2014 4:58 PM

08/07/2014 5:33 PM

A provision of the state budget that changes how schools are funded will put Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools at a disadvantage in recruiting talented teachers and make planning much more difficult, Superintendent Heath Morrison said.

As part of the budget signed by Gov. Pat McCrory on Thursday, the state legislature will no longer automatically fund growth in public school enrollment. Districts had long used that assumption to plan their staffing ahead of the North Carolina budget debate each summer. Now, they will have to wait until after the legislature adjourns, or later, to learn how much money they’ll receive.

“We view it as a very radical change,” Morrison said Thursday.

Rep. Nelson Dollar, the Cary Republican who served as chief budget writer, said the change was meant to make the budget clearer. But it was immediately described by Department of Public Instruction Chief Financial Officer Philip Price as “the largest change in the budget” in his lifetime. The provision was not a part of the budget debate.

Morrison said that for growing districts such as CMS, knowledge that growth would be funded has allowed them to recruit teachers in April or May and lent more certainty to the district’s budget.

CMS has grown by about 3,000 students per year over the past few school years. That means a need for about 145 new teachers.

With the change, CMS won’t be able to recruit until the fall, when money would be in hand. The caliber of teachers available at that point is far inferior, Morrison said. In the meantime, classes would be overcrowded.

Some Democrats have speculated the change could be a backdoor way to increase class sizes.

But Eric Guckian, Gov. Pat McCrory’s education policy adviser, said in a statement that it was a “minor change” that would not impact enrollment growth funding.

Morrison said the new system will mean lawmakers will now have to weigh whether to fund growth at the same time as they consider other changes, such as increasing teacher pay.

“We are concerned about making growth a priority that has to compete against other priorities for educational funding,” Morrison said.

The (Raleigh) News and Observer contributed.

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