Call it dueling schooling or just call it a win-win. Whichever way our lawmakers decide to fund the state’s long-postponed school construction needs, our kids and our society will reap big benefits.
House Speaker Tim Moore is promoting a school building plan that would be funded by a $1.8 billion bond issue that would require a voter referendum. The details of the plan are still being formulated, but proponents envision spending between $1.2 billion and $1.4 billion on K-12 schools and splitting the rest between the community colleges and universities.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown is pushing an alternative that would spend much more but wouldn’t be dependent on borrowing. Brown doesn’t like Moore’s plan because it would involve spending as much as an additional $1 billion on interest — taxpayer money that wouldn’t go to the state’s schools.
Brown’s spending plan is much more ambitious. He envisions allocating about $2 billion apiece to the state’s K-12 schools, the community college system and the university system. The money would come out of existing revenues.
The potential fly in Brown’s ointment is the supposition that state revenues will continue to grow each year, as they have since we began recovering from the Great Recession. Early estimates show that once again this year, revenues are exceeding expectations. That’s been the engine that has driven Republicans’ strategy of expanded spending on many state institutions while continuing to cut taxes. It’s a luxury that a high-growth state can enjoy. But economists are increasingly worrying that the nation’s economic growth may be headed into a stall in coming years, and global economic indicators are showing that a slowdown may already be underway.
The schools across the state, on every level, certainly could use the money.
We have concerns about both the House and Senate building programs. We fear the House may be underestimating the extent of the state’s school building needs and that the Senate may be basing a more aggressive growth plan on revenue that may prove ephemeral.
The answer, we expect, will be some hybrid of the House and Senate plans, a combination of existing revenues with borrowing to insure that the cash is there for the schools even if there is an economic downturn. No matter what condition the economy is in, we still need to be educating the state’s children in the most modern possible facilities.
Both plans are preliminary and House and Senate leaders say there is much more discussion to come. Moore’s spokesman said last week that, “The speaker appreciates that Senate leaders share his priority for offering North Carolina education communities immediate support from the state for school construction needs in their counties. He will continue to seek feedback from local stakeholders and legislative colleagues to craft a consensus proposal that builds on North Carolina’s successful approach to new education investments.”
No matter what form this initiative ends up taking, the state’s students and families, on every level, will be the winners. That’s good to see.