‘Many crises’ loom for NC public schools due to delay in state budget’s passing, Truitt says

Capitol Report

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The state Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt (R) warned of “many crises” looming for schools amid the delay in getting a state budget passed, just as a judge is considering whether to force the state to spend more on education.

Truitt wrote Gov. Roy Cooper (D) and Republican legislative leaders this week about her concerns, saying there are some programs about to lose funding and some that don’t have the money to begin due to no budget being enacted.

“There are very serious consequences in the near term for our students and their families and our educators,” she said in an interview Tuesday. “The time is now. Limbo is not an option for our state, in particular in education.”

She highlighted some examples, including more than 150 schools that could lose funding for internet access (affecting more than 14,000 students) and the potential for “massive delays” in processing teacher licenses due to a contract expiring earlier this year.

“All of those school leaders and teachers are really moving heaven and earth to not just get kids caught up but to also allow them to accelerate forward,” she said. “When I think about all of the plans that are in place, some of which hinge on money passing from the budget, I think it makes us all pretty nervous to think that some of these things might not be funded.”

She urged state leaders to put a budget up for a vote, saying she does not want to see a repeat of two years ago when the two parties never reached a compromise. Republicans went on to enact a series of so-called “mini-budgets” that funded parts of the budget that were largely agreed upon.

“Mini budgets, which have been the solution in the past, are not a solution coming out of a pandemic,” she said. “Mini budgets are simply a Band-Aid.”

Republican leaders in the General Assembly said there could be votes on a state budget next week, more than four months into the current fiscal year.

They’ve held closed-door talks with Gov. Roy Cooper and Democratic leaders in the General Assembly, but it’s unclear if those discussions will lead to a compromise.

“We are still far apart,” said House Speaker Tim Moore (R). “We’re not together on the taxes in terms of where the legislature is and the Governor. We really believe in significant tax relief.”

Republicans may attempt to pass a budget that does not have the Governor’s approval by trying to convince a handful of Democrats to join with them in overriding a veto.

The budget talks are happening as a judge could issue an order Wednesday compelling state leaders to put about $1.7 billion in the state treasury toward education as part of the long-running Leandro school funding case.

Judge David Lee will consider that proposal by the plaintiffs in the case during a hearing Wednesday afternoon. In a court filing Monday night, lawyers in Democratic Atty. Gen. Josh Stein’s office noted the state has more than enough money available to fund the next two years of the $5.6 billion plan.

“As a separate and coequal branch of government, this Court has inherent authority to order that the State abide by the Constitution’s commands to meet its constitutional obligations. In doing so, the Court’s Order will enable the State to meet its obligations to students, while also avoiding encroachment upon the proper role of the legislature,” writes Senior Deputy Atty. Gen. Amar Majmundar.

Gov. Cooper called for fully funding the Leandro plan in his budget proposal, while Republicans in the legislature proposed paying for a fraction of it.

General Assembly leaders have rejected the idea that the judge can force the state to spend the money, with Sen. Deanna Ballard (R-Watauga) calling the case a “circus” on Tuesday.

Ahead of the hearing, Democratic senators and advocacy groups highlighted a report by the left-leaning group Progress NC that called attention to funding issues teachers, parents and students have faced in schools. Click here to read: https://ncschoolfacts.com/report/

The report notes problems related to understaffing, crowded classrooms, insufficient supplies and other things.

“The state legislature has billions in reserves. And, the same politicians who don’t want to fund our schools also are proposing tax cuts for the wealthiest North Carolinians,” said Bryan Proffitt, a history teacher and vice president of the North Carolina Association of Educators. “The Leandro decision mandated that equitable funding when I was in high school. And, I am here at 42 years old, halfway through my career, speaking at a press conference to demand that we finally take action.”

Bob Luebke, senior research fellow at the Center for Effective Education at the conservative John Locke Foundation, said the case could put the legislature and the judicial branch on a “collision course.”

He noted the recent efforts by Democrats and Republicans to find a compromise on the state budget.

“If Judge Lee orders the legislature to spend this amount of money, $1.7 billion, on the first two years of a remediation plan, I think it torpedoes a lot of that,” he said. “They’re angry that this plan is being basically shoved down their throat and said they have to follow it.”

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