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Originally published: 2011-06-10 09:56:00
Last modified: 2011-06-10 09:56:10

N.C. per-pupil spending drops to 49th in U.S.

Justin Grimes / (

Strong political claims and counterclaims along with back-room deals including a telling open-microphone episode filled the pages of the state’s press this past week as Republicans in Raleigh agreed to a revised budget plan. If enacted, the budget will drop North Carolina into next-to-last place in kindergarten through 12th grade per-pupil spending.

Republican leaders praised their revised $19.7 billion spending plan during their state convention in Wilmington this past weekend saying “it’s a tough budget for tough economic times.” It passed the House with a veto proof supermajority (73 to 45) on Saturday, June 4. The N.C. Senate acted on the historic budget – the first North Carolina budget drawn primarily by Republicans in more than a century – and sent it to the governor.

The GOP position was reinforced by five Democrats who agreed to vote with the Republicans apparently in exchange for concessions that included more money for education and protecting programs in their home districts.

Republican lawmakers claim that their budget is very close to Gov. Purdue’s budget and that they have restored the money for teaching assistants the House had previously cut and that they are adding more than 1,100 elementary teachers to cut class sizes.

They said the budget fulfilled their campaign promises by cutting $1.5 billion in taxes, cutting back the size of government and that lower taxes will be responsible for thousands of new private-sector jobs.

“I am prepared to veto this budget if my review indeed shows what I fear – that North Carolina will move backwards under this budget plan,” Gov. Perdue said in response Sunday, June 5. “I will not be the first governor to abandon our schools, our community colleges and our university system.

“The proposed budget appears to be a charade,” said Gov. Perdue earlier last week. “While the Republican leadership claims to protect teaching positions, they are actually forcing local school districts to make substantial layoffs of education personnel to the tune of more than a quarter billion dollars statewide – meaning thousands of teachers and teaching assistants will be cut.”

In Western North Carolina: Avery County will face $620,174 in cuts, Watauga County will face $1.3 million in cuts and Mitchell County will face $605,401 in cuts, according to analysis by the Department of Public Instruction and State Board of Education based on per-pupil allocations.

The budget would eliminate 13,000 education positions in the fiscal year starting July 1, including nearly 9,300 in the public schools, according to documents provided to the press from the University of North Carolina System, public schools and the community college system.

Associated Press reported Sunday, June 5, that House Speaker Thom Tillis of Cornelius drew applause at the Republican convention when he said the legislature planned next week to adopt both a bill requiring voters to produce photo identification and a bill that would bar the state from collecting dues for the N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE).

"They [NCAE] don't care about kids. They don't care about classrooms," Tillis said. "They only care about their jobs and their pensions."

“The question on everybody's mind is whether the governor signs the budget,” N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger of Eden said at the convention “Fortunately, I'm not sure it matters a whole lot whether she [Perdue] signs the budget. Increasingly, she is making herself irrelevant to what is happening in North Carolina.”

House Democrats Jim Crawford, Bill Owens, William Brisson, Dewey Hill and Tim Spear voted for the budget.

The five said that they chose to work with Republicans because it was clear that the GOP was not going to budge on extending the one-cent temporary sales tax increase that was instituted in 2009 to overcome the impact of the economic slowdown and that Perdue was not going to back down from her demand to keep part of the tax to offset cuts to education.

A telling exchange behind closed doors between House Republicans last Friday, June 3, was broadcast to the General Assembly’s press room when a microphone was accidentally left on.

Part of that exchange: “Please do not go after Democrats. Five of them are voting with us,” Tillis said. “But if Republicans want to go after a specific D member, Gut-punch ‘em, hit ‘em in the jaw, doesn’t matter to me.

“Understand that these five Democrats are going after her [Perdue]. Understand Bill Owens is a very close personal friend of hers.”

Tillis also commented on a bill that would disallow payroll deduction of NCAE dues. “The reason we’re doing it is because the NCAE has gone into all five districts with mailers hammering these Democrats. It’s just a little taste of what’s to come.”

Perdue spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson told the News and Observer Sunday, June 5, that it will likely be "several days before the governor decides what to do; she's got a lot to review." Under the North Carolina Constitution, Perdue has 10 days from when she receives a bill to sign it, veto it or do nothing and let the measure become law without her signature.