News: CJ Exclusives

Differences emerge in House, Senate education budgets

House plan would cut Department of Public Instruction more fiscal slack than Senate proposal

Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, at a May 25 House committee. (CJ Photo by Kari Travis)
Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, at a May 25 House committee. (CJ Photo by Kari Travis)

RALEIGH — The North Carolina House education budget is scratch made, taking few cues from the Senate’s plan, Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, told Carolina Journal on Thursday.

House leaders took a hard look at the $22.9 billion General Fund budget for 2017-2018, putting $8.7 billion in education spending where it made sense, he said. Many items mirror the Senate’s priorities. Others are very different.

Most notably, Horn — a chairman of that body’s education appropriations committee — questions portions of the Senate’s proposal that would require the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction to cut its budget arbitrarily by 25 percent. The Senate plan also would cut four staff positions from the State Board of Education.

An ongoing lawsuit between the State Board of Education and the General Assembly has complicated relationships between the two entities.

In December, legislators stripped some of the state board’s administrative powers, handing them over to Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson.

The state board filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the legislature’s move.

Unfortunate as it is, the situation should not skew the objectivity of the budget process, Horn told CJ.

“Let’s make our decisions based on data, not on, ‘I don’t like you,’” he said.  

Some highlights from the House’s education budget include:

  • Providing Superintendent Mark Johnson $921,583 to hire up to 10 staffers. The state board would have no input into the hiring process. Under the Senate plan, $433,000 was allocated to fund up to five staffers.
  • Scrapping eight job positions within DPI, seven of which are unfilled. The move would save $596,583.
  • Supplying $1 million for a third-party audit of DPI, per a request from Johnson. Appropriate cuts would be made after the audit results are complete. Under the Senate plan, DPI would be required to cut 25 percent of its budget as it sees fit.
  • Allocating $250,000 to fund one new DPI position, assistant superintendent of early childhood education. That official would oversee developmental and educational needs of children up to the age of eight.

Like the Senate, the House has appropriated $300,000 to pay for independent legal services incurred by Johnson during the ongoing lawsuit, evidence that tensions won’t subside anytime soon, said Terry Stoops, vice president of research and education studies at the John Locke Foundation.

“[The funding] is a clear signal that Johnson and the General Assembly have given up on seeking a non-judicial resolution to their dispute with the State Board of Education.”

The House committee outline did not include specific information on teacher salaries and benefits. Those line items will be the most factious, Stoops said.

“When the members of the Senate and House come together to negotiate a final budget, the differences in the education budget are minor and should be easy to resolve.  The most contentious issue between the two, as it usually is, will be educator compensation.”

The full House budget will be made public early next week.

Horn said he’s had “absolutely no conversation with the Senate,” but that he’s hopeful the two chambers will strike an agreement.

“I wanted to know why they made some of the decisions they made,” he said. “But I’ve still not heard from anybody as to ‘why did you do that, and what do you not want DPI to do that they’re doing? Please, tell me! I’m interested to know.’”