Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson suggested to the state budget director in a letter last year that some of the money the legislature approved to bolster a reading law could be used to offset cuts at the state Department of Public Instruction.
Atkinson said this week that the money is going directly to help students, but her exchange in October with the state budget office triggered questions from Senate Republicans about DPI spending.
Senate leader Phil Berger sent Atkinson and State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey a letter about the issue Monday. Sen. Chad Barefoot, a Wake Republican, asked Atkinson about it Tuesday at a legislative committee meeting.
“I just want to ask you publicly that no monies that were appropriated to go specifically to the classroom will ... be used to fund any type of bureaucratic or personnel growth or reorganization or relabeling back at the Department of Public Instruction,” Barefoot said.
Atkinson replied that the money “will go to our schools to teach children how to read.”
The current state budget cut $2.5 million from DPI and added $3.7 million to carry out a new law that, in part, requires that most third-graders read proficiently before they’re promoted.
As DPI was consulting with the State Office of Budget and Management on the department budget, Atkinson suggested in a letter Oct. 7 that some of the $3.7 million could “be considered to cover administrative costs that could possibly offset some of the budget reduction.”
Budget director Lee Roberts, in a reply Oct. 27, told her that such a move would be “inconsistent with the enacted budget.”
In December, the State Board of Education approved sending $1.6 million to local districts and charter schools to pay for extra tutoring for nearly 400 students who have been retained twice.
Atkinson said this week that the State Board is set to consider spending more of the $3.7 million at its upcoming meeting, when it reviews money going to local districts for summer reading camps.