The following offers education-related highlights of the recent legislative sessions. The enrollment figures are based on estimated fall 2001 data reported by the National Center for Education Statistics for prekindergarten through 12th grade in public elementary and secondary schools. The figures for precollegiate education spending include money for state education administration, but not federal, flow-through dollars, unless otherwise noted.
Preschool Is a Winner
As Budget Battle Ends
North Carolina lawmakers found a way to preserve and even expand spending for education this fiscal year, despite a deepening budget shortfall that left other state agencies reeling from cuts of up to 10 percent.
The legislature ended a three-month battle Sept. 20, when it approved a revised budget for the second year of the 2002-03 biennium. Gov. Michael F. Easley signed the budget bill Sept. 30.
The $14.4 billion overall state budget for fiscal 2003, which began July 1, includes $6 billion for pre-K-12 public education—an increase of less than 1 percent from the previous fiscal year. Under the budget plan, some $26 million will go toward hiring nearly 600 new teachers as the state continues to reduce the number of pupils in most kindergarten and 1st grade classrooms to 18.
The state's preschool program for at-risk 4-year-olds, which is Gov. Easley's More at Four initiative, will also be expanded. The budget includes $34.6 million, a $6 million increase over what was approved originally, to open the program to 7,600 children, up from 1,600 last year.
The department of public instruction, however, will have to trim some $42 million from its contributions to local districts. It will also eliminate more than 15 administrative positions in the state agency, to save $2.8 million.
Local districts will also need to reduce clerical and janitorial positions because of a statewide, $46 million reduction in noninstructional employees. Nearly 90 assistant principal positions will also be cut, saving $9.3 million. Currently, however, 110 vacancies in such positions exist throughout the state.
In the Democrat-controlled House, meanwhile, legislators voted down a lottery referendum that would have let voters decide the issue.
Gov. Easley and fellow Democrats in the legislature have supported creation of a lottery as a way out of a more than $1 billion budget deficit. It was projected that a lottery could bring in more than $70 million annually, with the proceeds going primarily to education. Several efforts to set up a state lottery over the past decade have failed, even as surrounding states have implemented the lucrative games.
—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo
Vol. 22, Issue 6, Page 19