- By Sidney Shank, Staff Writer -
On Feb. 7th, Republicans in the N.C. General Assembly unveiled their solution to the unfunded class size mandate voted into law back in 2016. The new bill, House Bill 90, extends the amount of time allowed for phasing in the new class sizes as well as expanding funding for specials teachers and the pre-kindergarten program. However, the bill is tied to issues dealing with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the partisan composition of the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement in an attempt to force Democrats to vote for issues they otherwise would not support.
The original class size mandate would have required school districts across the state to implement the lower class sizes for grades K-3 by the 2018-2019 school year without any additional funds for new classrooms or additional teachers. HB 90 spreads out the lowering of class sizes through the 2021-2022 school year for a gradual lowering of the maximum cap on classrooms rather than an abrupt one. It also provides $246 million in funding for specials teachers spread out over the course of three school years until 2021-2022. Finally, the bill will expand the pre-kindergarten program by $26 million in Fiscal Year 19-20 and by $36 million in FY 20-21.
The downside for Democrats are the provisions in the bill dealing with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement. As part of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline deal, Governor Roy Cooper required the creation of a $58 million fund by the developers of the pipeline as payment in advance for any potential environmental disasters. House Bill 90 took that fund and spread the money amongst the counties through which the pipeline will run as additional education funding. The changes to the Election and Ethics board increase the number of seats from five to eight and require the governor to appoint four Democrats and four Republicans, rather than three of the governor’s party and two of the opposing party. Democrats have long opposed this measure, and in Jan. 2017, the N.C. Supreme Court struck down a similar attempt to reorganize the Election and Ethics board to eight, evenly-bipartisan members. It is unlikely that the Supreme Court will uphold the changes to the board in HB 90.
On Feb.13, the bill was presented to Governor Cooper. As of Feb. 26, he has neither signed nor vetoed the bill.