Legislators review proposed education budget

RALEIGH – Criticism of proposed cuts in community college funding was among the topics addressed by legislators during a meeting Wednesday on adjustments to the state’s education spending plans.

Legislators also addressed concerns regarding a proposed $27 million cut to the University of North Carolina system budget. The UNC system did receiving funding increases in the proposed budget, including $64 million due to increased enrollment.

The concerns were addressed during a meeting of the Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on Education.

“I’m really disappointed in this budget,” said 17th District Republican Sen. Richard Stevens.

Some of Stevens’ concerns regarded more than $10 million in across the board cuts to the community college system. Among the funding being cut from community colleges includes $134,921 for a public radio station at the Isothermal Community College in the western part of the state.

“We are no where near funding the community colleges’ needs,” Stevens said.

After the cuts were made, community colleges will receive more than $20 million in additional funding, according to the proposed budget adjustment. The proposed budget adjustment calls for community colleges to receive $680 million in funding. The 2005 budget, approved last year, calls for community colleges to receive $660 million.

“We realize the critical role they play obviously in workforce development,” said Anne Blander, with the Office of State Budget and Management, who spoke to committee members regarding the budget. “We looked at items we felt could be reduced first.”

Spending within the UNC system will be increased by about $47 million, according to the proposed budget adjustment. Currently, UNC has an approved budget of about $1.82 billion. It will be increase to about $1.869 billion if the proposed adjustment is approved.

However, legislators were concerned with at least one proposed budget cut that is under consideration.

Easley’s budget calls for $27 million in proposed cuts within the entire UNC system, most of which will come from vacant staff and non-faculty positions. Each affected institution, health care or research facility will be responsible for cutting 1.7 percent of their own budget, Blander said.

“That is the backbone of the university, really,” said Rep. Alex Warner, D-45.

After some discussion a majority of the legislators indicated they were concerned about the budget cut proposal.

Among the UNC programs that will receive and increase in funding is the state’s need-based financial aid program. That program will get an increase in spending of about $21 million, which will come from the Escheats Fund. Blander said the proposed increase in funding would allow for a longer deadline window for financial aid applications.

The state is also considering spending $500,000 for a manufacturing extension partnership at NC State. The program would fund assistance to medium-sized manufacturers across the state. It would replace lost federal funds.

Also under consideration is $500,000 in new funding for bio manufacturing training center at NC State. The proposed funding would cover initial operating expenses and curriculum development for the program.

There is a $500,000 proposal in the proposed budget for start-up operating expenses for a Bio-processing Research Institute and Technology Enterprise at NC Central University.

The committee will reconvene Thursday at 9 a.m. with testimony from state agencies that are affected by the state’s education budget plans.

Shannon Blosser (sblosser@popecenter.org) is a staff writer for the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education in Chapel Hill.