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School construction bond bill makes its way through the House

A bill from House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, to put a $1.9 billion school building bond before voters received favorable approval in the House K-12 education committee yesterday. 

It includes about $1.5 billion for K-12 schools, and about $200 million each for the UNC System and Community College System.

“I very often…don’t file bills. It’s generally not the role of the Speaker,” Moore said. “But I felt this issue was important enough to do it this year.” 

Moore announced his intention to file the bill before the holidays, and since then, the Senate has filed and passed a competing bill

That bill would use money from the State Capital and Infrastructure Fund to raise money for school construction over the next 10 years. The SCIF gets 4 percent of state revenue to take care of the state’s debt and for capital projects for state government and the UNC System. The Senate bill proposes increasing the share of state revenue that goes to that fund to 4.5 percent, and then splitting the funds between the K-12 system, UNC and Community College Systems, and state agencies. One-third will go to K-12, one-third to the higher education systems, and one third will go to state agencies, for a total of about $2 billion each. That bill now needs to be taken up by the House.

Senate leaders say their bill would bring more money sooner and would avoid the state going into debt. Moore, as well as other supporters of the bond say the Senate’s plan is no guarantee since future General Assembly’s could decide not to continue using the SCIF funds for building construction. 

Moore didn’t say much about the opposing Senate bill during the House committee yesterday, except to say that he thought it had merit as well. 

While the legislation received unanimous approval during the committee, some lawmakers pushed back against Moore on the level of funds in the bill. 

Under the legislation, counties would get funding based on factors including average daily membership (school population), average daily membership growth (whether the population is increasing), and whether or not the county is a low-wealth county. Each county in the state would get a minimum of  $10 million, though if a county has multiple school districts — like Halifax County — then that money would be divided between the districts.  

Rep. Cecil Brockman, D-Guilford, questioned why his county, the third largest in the state, was only getting a little more than $12 million. 

“It feels like we’re getting shortchanged here,” he said. 

Moore explained the factors used to arrive at the numbers and said this legislation is only a start.

“This is the first step in what will be a long process,” he said, adding that he is hopeful that in the future lawmakers can find ways to address counties such as Guilford that don’t get as much money under the bond proposal.

Rep. Charles Graham, D-Robeson, talked about the plight of his county, which was hard hit by recent hurricanes. Robeson would get a little more than $51 million if the bond was passed by voters. He said Robeson hasn’t built a new public school in decades, and some schools have problems such as mold and other issues that make the learning environment challenging for students.

“You talk about a crisis, this is a crisis,” he said. 

He asked Moore what the plans were for helping counties like Robeson in the future and what the state could do to get the federal government more involved. 

“What I can tell you is that we have consistently advocated for the feds to do what they can,” Moore said. 

He went on to say that the best way to help rural counties like Robeson is to continue to help them grow in such a way that their economies improve. 

“What we’ve done these last few sessions and what we need to continue to do is make sure we’re investing in our rural communities,” he said. 

Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, told the committee that he thinks most House members plan to support the bond proposal, but he said the plan is not enough to fully meet the state’s public school facility needs. 

“We know there is about $8 billion of needs right now… and we know we have a growing state,” he said, adding: “Why are we limiting this bill?” 

A report heard by lawmakers back in 2017 put the state’s school facility needs at about $8 billion, though that number has likely grown since then. 

Moore said that facility maintenance and construction is typically handled by local districts and that it would be a “slippery slope” to start making that a regular part of General Assembly budgets. 

A change was made to the bill in committee, moving the election where voters could take up the measure from the November 2020 general election to the March 2020 primary. Moore said it was always the intent to have the vote in March, but due to a typo the bill listed the election in November instead. 

A report released by the North Carolina Justice Center yesterday analyzes both the Senate and the House plan. A press release about the report says that they both share two common features. 

  • Both plans would reduce funding for state needs other than school construction. Neither plan raises additional revenue, so paying for school construction necessarily means reductions in other areas of the budget, including funding for K-12 education.

  • While potentially making an important contribution, neither option will meet all of the needs facing our public schools nor address school building needs beyond the next decade.

The release goes on to say that while the House proposal would likely benefit K-12 public schools the most, neither bill amounts to an ongoing solution to the school facility needs in the state. 


What are your education priorities for North Carolina? Join the People’s Session, an online project that allows you to weigh in on policy issues and add your own priorities. Click here to begin.


School safety legislation

House Bill 76 — School Safety Omnibus — passed a House rules committee yesterday. It had already passed a House education committee the week before and will head to the full House floor today. 

The bill includes recommendations from the House Select Committee on School safety, which was created in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida in 2018. The legislation includes the creation of threat assessment teams, vulnerability assessments at state schools, professional development and training on school safety, and the development of training for school resource officers. 

Two other bills related to school safety, House Bill 73 and House Bill 75, passed the House Rules Committee Monday and will be heard on the House floor today. House Bill 73 would put civic responsibility instruction in all schools. Currently, schools are allowed to teach civic responsibility, but this bill would mandate it. House Bill 75 would create a study to look at if mental health screening for students is needed and what it could accomplish if implemented. 

House — Universities

The House university education committee gave approval to a bill that would make it easier to access data related to the state’s Educator Preparation Programs (EPPs) — the programs that train the state’s teachers. 

Among other things, the bill requires the State Board to come up with a “formulaic, performance-based weighted model” to be used to compare EPPs on annual report cards for the various programs. Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, said the goal is to make sure that data related to these programs is more easily accessible and user-friendly. 

He said the bill is very much a work in progress, and that there has been some concern from interested groups about the legislation as currently written. He said stakeholders will meet to discuss the legislation later this week, and it will be heard again in the House K-12 Education Committee. 

“The ultimate goal is to make sure we’re putting the highest quality teachers in front of the most number of students,” Horn said. 

House Bill 186 — College Advising Corps Expansion/Funds — also received favorable approval in the committee. It would give extra funding for the College Advising Corp to provide college advisors in high schools in all counties in the state over three years. For 2019-20, it would provide more than $2 million in recurring funding. In the following year, it would add an additional $366,667 in recurring funding. And the bill “expresses the intent” to appropriate another $283,333 recurring in the third year. 

The College Advising Corp is a nonprofit that performs advising in high schools with an aim of “increasing the number of underrepresented, low-income, or first-generation postsecondary degree or certificate students completing postsecondary education.” Essentially, these advisers help students figure out the best post-secondary option for them. 

In 2016-17, the College Advising Corps put 112 counselors in 52 counties, 59 districts, and 133 high schools, according to the bill. The group hopes to expand to all counties, 109 school systems, and 183 high schools with the help of this legislation. 

The full cost for the expansion would be shared between the state, “the philanthropic community,” and “postsecondary institutions,” according to the bill. 

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.