Under the Dome

NC may reimburse public and private schools for road improvements

The worksite at the new Oakview Elementary School is full of activity as construction continues Dec. 8, 2015 in Holly Springs, N.C. A bill passed by the state House would have the state DOT reimburse schools when they’re required to make street improvements by municipalities as part of construction projects.
The worksite at the new Oakview Elementary School is full of activity as construction continues Dec. 8, 2015 in Holly Springs, N.C. A bill passed by the state House would have the state DOT reimburse schools when they’re required to make street improvements by municipalities as part of construction projects. cliddy@newsobserver.com

Both public and private schools in North Carolina could get reimbursed by the state for tens of millions of dollars spent annually on road projects that are mandated by municipalities.

The State House passed House Bill 10 on Thursday, which says that the state Department of Transportation will reimburse schools when they’re required by cities to make street improvements associated with getting in and out of schools. The reimbursement option covers traditional public schools, charter schools and private schools.

The bill’s mostly Republican supporters promoted it as a way to allow schools to focus their money on education instead of on construction projects. Rep. Paul Stam, an Apex Republican, said the bill could take $21 million to $97 million a year from the state highway fund but could also provide an offsetting savings of $18 million to $94 million a year for schools.

“It’s a transfer of money from DOT to your local public schools so anybody who has ever advocated for more support for local public schools will jump and down in support of this bill,” said Stam, one of the bill’s main sponsors.

But the bill’s Democratic critics raised concerns about covering private schools in the legislation.

“My concern is just how broad any school designation might be,” said Rep. Joe Sam Queen, a Waynesville Democrat. “This is what I consider to be unvetted, unintended consequences that we’re getting into in this session.”

Stam reassured Democratic lawmakers that home schools and Sunday Schools would not be eligible for reimbursement for road projects.

An earlier form of the legislation was passed unanimously by the House this year but didn’t get approved by the Senate. Supporters hope the new bill, which passed 71-31 on Thursday, will get a hearing in this special session.

School districts have long complained about the high cost of road improvements that are required to offset the traffic impact of school construction and renovation projects. During the floor debate, Stam cited how much the Wake County school system has had to pay for road projects for its ongoing construction program.

“This is a way that cities are trying to stick the bill to county school boards instead of asking DOT to pay for it themselves,” Stam said. “This is not about private schools, this is about transportation.”

But Rep. Verla Inkso, a Chapel Hill Democrat, also pointed to how the bill would require DOT to maintain roads owned or leased by charter schools that lead to state-maintained roads. With the state budget for this year already having been adopted, she said the legislation would compromise the ability to maintain roads.

“Put it in the appropriations bill (next year) when you are supposed to,” Insko said.

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