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State budget: Few smiles, tense wait
Legislators were working to finalize a state budget on Wednesday that critics have said undercuts public education.

While members of the General Assembly were working to finish off a budget that was unveiled just days before, Franklin County education leaders say it will be some time before they know the full ramifications of the state’s $20.6 billion budget.

According to the budget as of press time, it cuts teacher assistance funding by 21 percent, ends the practice of teacher tenure and offers parents and guardians funds for vouchers to private schools.

The budget also removes caps on class sizes.

All told, said Rep. Bobbie Richardson, the budget cuts half a billion dollars for public education, from pre-K to college.

“The Democratic party’s take,” said Richardson, “is that to pay for the tax break for the wealthiest 1 percent, [the Republicans] are making it harder to provide high quality education for children to graduate and compete in the 21st century.”

Immediate attempts to contact the county’s Republican legislators, Sen. Chad Barefoot and Rep. Jeff Collins, were not immediately successful.

The budget, Richardson said, slices and dices money for a number of projects, but particularly education.

It could mean the loss of 4,000 teachers and 3,800 teacher’s assistants.

It could also mean the loss of many other teachers to flight, leaving the state for higher paying positions.

“That’s one of the things we’re concerned with,” said Richardson, a former member of the county’s Board of Education.

Democratic members of the General Assembly have not been the only group critical of the 2013-15 state budget.

The North Carolina Association of Educators has issue with the budget, threatening a lawsuit, specifically regarding the matters of tenure and vouchers.

The practical impacts of the budget, though, won’t be known for some time, said Franklin County Assistant Superintendent for Finance, Doug Moore.

“Right now,” Moore said earlier this week, I’ve got more questions than I’ve got answers. I’m still trying to discern and find out what it all means.”

The budget does not include raises for teachers.

And far as the issue of vouchers, the fear is vouchers for private education takes money away from public education.

Tenure would be replaced by one-, two- and four-year contracts for teachers.

Depending on the vantage point, tenure is viewed as either a means to protect bad teachers, or a method to insure that disciplinary action taken against a teacher is done fairly.  The state budget removes that.

The state budget removes a lot of things, Richardson said. No state employees will get raises. Funding for road maintenance is getting cut. Community college tuition will rise. Minority business support is being cut. Department of Public Safety positions are being slashed.

And so is funding for Health and Human Services and the Wildlife Commission.

The state budget also proposes changes in funding for the Rural Economic Development Center — an agency that has come under fire for the oversight of its funding.

But it is a program, advocates say, that provides crucial funding for rural communities.

At this point, said County Economic Development Director Ronnie Goswick, state funding for the program might be funneled through a different arm of government, however, there is a question as to what will happen with money provided from other sources.

“[The cut to the Rural Center] is going to affect us somewhat,” Goswick said, noting it will take some time to determine the full impact. “Right now, he said, the state has frozen funding at the Rural Center.

“Counties and cities looking to do projects are being put on hold,” said Goswick, noting that Youngsville had one project that was looking to get into the pipeline for Rural Center funding, but developers decided to do the project without such funding.

A project in Franklinton, using Rural Center funding, is nearly finished.

Time will tell how it all shakes out, Goswick said.

“If the (state) Department of Commerce does what it says, [the Rural Center] funding will be available.

“It’ll just be through a different avenue.”

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