Politics & Government

Wake would get more than $109 million for schools from proposed state bond

Wake County would get more than $109 million for school construction and repairs under a proposal for a $1.9 billion statewide school bond House Republicans are backing.

Under House Bill 241, $1.5 billion of the bond funds would go to counties for public schools, $200 million would go to community colleges, and $200 million would go to UNC campuses. The question about borrowing the money would be on the November 2020 ballot.

(An earlier version of this story misstated how much community colleges and UNC would get under the bond.)

The last statewide school bond referendum was in 1996.

Under the bill, Durham would receive $10 million, Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools would get $6.8 million, and Orange County schools, $3.1 million. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools would get $61.8 million. The amounts are based partly on school district size and growth.

Most districts would have to match the bond money they receive with their own.

House Speaker Tim Moore took the unusual step of sponsoring the bill. He said at a news conference Thursday that a bond is the right approach to addressing the urgent need counties have for school buildings and repairs. He has been touring the state, looking at dilapidated schools.

There’s broad agreement that counties need help building and improving schools, but Republicans in the House and Senate have different ideas how to do it.

The Senate has passed a bill that would pay for school construction with money from the state budget over nine years. Senate Republicans say their idea would save the state more than $1 billion in debt payments.

At the news conference, Moore said he was concerned that the Senate’s pay-as-you-go proposal would end the state’s tradition of having the counties take primary responsibility for school buildings.

A bond is also more reliable, Moore said.

“If I didn’t believe that this was a fiscally responsible approach, that this is a way that is actually a fiscally conservative approach to the taxpayers, you wouldn’t see me standing here before you advocating this,” Moore said.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper also wants a school bond, and promoted it during his State of the State address this week.

Leanne Winner, lobbyist for the NC School Boards Association, thanked Moore at the news conference for backing the bond.

“The bond proposal, if passed by the voters of this state, allows school districts both the guarantee of funds and knowledge of the exact amount they will receive so that school districts can plan projects accordingly,” Winner said.

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Lynn Bonner has worked at The News & Observer since 1994, and has written about the state legislature and politics since 1999. Contact her at lbonner@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4821.