School Facilities Bill Passes Senate as Democrats Raise State Funding Concerns
Elizabeth Yelverton | NCASA Legal Affairs & Policy Manager
Senate lawmakers passed a school capital funding bill last night, despite concerns expressed by several prominent Democrats, including Governor Roy Cooper, about the bill’s potential effect on the availability of recurring funds for other state projects. Senate Bill 5—“Building’s North Carolina’s Future”—was introduced by Senate lawmakers as an alternative to the statewide school bond proposed by House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland). Proponents of SB 5 argue the Senate plan will generate more money for school capital projects, while saving the state approximately $1.3 billion in bond interest payments. The Senate plan was met with new opposition this week, as both the Governor and Senate Democrats issued statements favoring a school bond referendum.
Governor Roy Cooper released a statement on Tuesday coming out against the Senate proposal, instead advocating for a “school bond put to a vote of the people.” The Governor noted that Senate Bill 5, which would raise $2 billion each for K-12 schools, community colleges, and the UNC system over ten years through the State Capital and Infrastructure Fund (SCIF), would actually lower the availability of funds for other critical state projects, such as educator pay raises. A fiscal analysis developed by the Governor’s education team found that approximately $84 million in recurring funds would be left in the general fund for all state projects for the upcoming fiscal year under the Senate plan, making any significant education projects unlikely. In comparison, the analysis found approximately $432 million left in recurring funds if no funds were carved out for the Senate plan as well as SCIF, which is scheduled by statute to begin on July 1 of this year. The Governor noted,
“Funding school construction through the SCIF siphons funds from other budget needs, like improving school safety, raising teacher salaries, or purchasing textbooks and other instructional supplies, at a time when the bond market is robust and the state can borrow at relatively low interest rates to meet the construction needs of communities and schools.”
Senate Democrats also came out in favor of a school bond referendum during a press conference yesterday morning, noting it was a more sustainable approach to school facilities funding. Several Democrats made statements mirroring the Governor’s critique of SB 5, stating the Senate proposal to utilize funds from the annual budget would actually harm schools by taking away money for textbooks, classroom materials, and raises for teachers and state employees. Legislators at the press conference stated they would be filing a bond referendum proposal similar to the one expected to be filed soon by House Speaker Moore.
Despite not yet filing a school bond bill, House Speaker Moore also continued to advocate for a school bond, as he visited Mt. Pleasant Elementary School in Ferguson, N.C. last Friday to participate in a school bond forum and facilities tour. Speaker Moore was joined by local Rep. Jeffrey Elmore (R-Wilkes), as well as members of the Wilkes County Board of Commissioners and Board of Education in discussing his school facilities bond proposal. Rep. Elmore said the school construction bond proposal will allow local leaders to decide where to put capital resources, stating,
“When you are looking at what to spend the money on, that’s up to you. The reason the bond if an effective way to do that is when local leaders look at capital improvement plans and see what is the greatest need, they can work on that financing package together for their students.”
Speaker Moore’s visit to Wilkes County was his third stop on his school bond tour. He held similar school bond forums in January in Harnett and Columbus counties.
Lawmakers passed Senate Bill 5 during last night’s Session, and the bill will now be sent to the House for further discussion and likely debate.