5/23/12 House mulls amount schools will pay back

House mulls amount schools will pay back
Districts want provision eliminated from budget
By Gary D. Robertson    The Associated Press The Times-News 5/23/12     
Reprinted with permission.

   RALEIGH — Some House Republicans would like to slash by more than half the amount North Carolina public school districts will be required to return to the state next year, but it’s unclear whether they’ll have enough money to do it, a budget writer said Tuesday.

   Republican leaders for the House education budget subcommittee rolled out ideas the panel will consider as adjustments to the second year of the two-year budget to begin July 1.The full House could vote next week on its proposal to alter the entire $19.9 billion state government spending plan already in place.

   North Carolina’s 115 school districts have been asking the General Assembly to eliminate a provision in the budget’s second year that will require them to return a combined $503 million in state funds they receive to operate. That is a $74.1 million increase over the current year.

   While districts have had flexibility to decide where the spending reductions occur, superintendents and other educators say the “mandatory reversions” that began in 2009 are leaving fewer options for districts to save beyond eliminating classroom personnel. House and Senate leaders have said they would like to halt the increase.

   House education subcommittee leaders want to go further and decrease those district reductions by another $259 million to about $170 million.

   The $259 million figure is designed to make up for an identical amount of federal grant money districts used to hire more than 5,400 school personnel this year, but won’t be available next year. Rep. Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke, said restoring a combined $333 million from the mandatory reversions would attempt to essentially leave districts no worse off than they were this school year.

   But this reduction, compared with other expansion items being tossed around by committee, would send the $7.4 billion public schools budget more than $261 million over the current spending target, according to a document handed out in the committee.

   Republicans are set on not raising taxes for the coming year, so more money would have to be found elsewhere to make up for the reduction. It’s up to the “big chairs” — the five leaders of the full House Appropriations Committee — to decide whether to increase the education subcommittee’s spending availability.