Republican senators want to spend less on education next year than their House counterparts, a development that has Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue spitting mad.
Senate Republicans on Tuesday began public discussions of the changes they want to make to the $19.3 billion budget the House passed last week.
Senators responsible for working on the detailed education budget released a target for spending that is lower than the House plan. The Senate is looking to spend about $10.62 billion on K-12 public schools, community colleges and the UNC system, or about $40 million less than the House approved. The UNC system would get $87 million more out of the Senate, but community colleges and K-12 public schools would get less.
The community college budget target is about $21 million below the House budget, and the K-12 target is about $106 million lower than the House plan.
Senate leader Phil Berger said the Senate's budget total would be somewhat smaller than the House proposal. The goal is to have the state live within its means, he said, by keeping spending in line with revenues and eliminating the temporary 1-cent sales tax increase.
"Our goal is to do what we told the voters we were going to do," he said.
Republican legislators are trying to deal with a budget shortfall estimated at $1.9 billion to $2.5 billion. They have vowed to let expire a temporary sales tax increase and an income tax surcharge.
The Senate spending goals did not go over well with Democrats, most of whom thought the House budget was bad.
Perdue spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson described Perdue's reaction as "shocked, disappointed, disgusted."
"It clearly moves North Carolina backward," she said. "It would put us close to if not dead last in the country in our education investment. And that is not a place the Tar Heel state can afford to be in and still expect to lead the South in being one of the most progressive, one of the most innovative, one of the best states in which to live and work."
Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt said the education cuts, on top of cuts in previous years and the loss of federal stimulus money is "just a death blow."
Republicans are making changes to a "state that's fundamentally progressive and they're trying to take us to one that's cheap," Nesbitt said.
Perdue proposed a budget that would keep part of the sales tax increase. Nesbitt said the state could avoid deep cuts by extending the 1-cent increase another year.
North Carolina is 46th in the nation in per pupil spending on public education, according to the National Education Association, a teachers union.
"We are destroying the public school system of this state," he said. "Period."
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