Gov. McCrory defends spending on education - WSLS 10 NBC in Roanoke/Lynchburg Va

Gov. McCrory defends spending on education

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North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory adamantly defended his budget for education Thursday at a speech in Chapel Hill, saying the budget includes a record amount for public education from the kindergarten through 12th grade levels.

"Frankly you haven't gotten the truth all the time in the news, whether it's The New York Times or The Raleigh News & Observer," McCrory said at a meeting of the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce.

"You only hear about the negative news in education and often it's inaccurate. Let me correct some inaccuracies from just this past two weeks. I need to let you know that funding for K through 12 has not been cut. In fact, at $7.8 billion, this is the largest K through 12 budget in North Carolina history.

"This year's K through 12 budget is $23 million more than we spent last year."

McCrory said 56 percent of the state budget will be directed toward education.

But Progress NC, in a response, said McCrory "misled the public once again about the education budget."

According to North Carolina Department of Public Instruction documents, the state set aside $7.91 billion for K-12 education in 2007-08 and $8.19 billion in 2008-09.

A spokesman for DPI told WNCN that McCrory's statement was not entirely true when looking at the budget overall. In fact, the spokesman said, this year's budget for K-12 education is about $322 million less than it was in 2008 and 2009. The spokesman said those numbers can vary from initial appropriations as the state moves money around.

Dan Barkin, senior editor at The News & Observer, said, "Reasonable people can debate what is happening with education spending in our state. The state legislature in its own budget documents used information from state agencies to determine how much it would cost to maintain the status quo given enrollment growth and inflation.

"By that measure, the new  K-12 budget had a 1.5 percent cut. Just looking at year-over-year appropriations, the education budget is up 4.8 percent.  In our reporting, we have tried to look at this important question from different perspectives to give our readers a complete picture. We think this is an important thing to do, whether you're a news organization providing information to readers or a politician making a speech."

McCrory, in his speech at the Chamber's Conference on Education, did not address spending at the college or university level, where many of the state's premier institutions, like the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and N.C. State University, will see their state support slashed.

McCrory addressed a wide range of topics at the speech, including teacher pay, excessive testing and the need for various parts of the education community to work together for students.

He did unveil a new plan to spend $30 million in an "education innovation fund" to invest in teachers and help them find the best ways to teach students. McCrory said the request would require approval from the U.S. Department of Education and President Barack Obama. The idea is at least 1,000 teachers would get $10,000 stipends to help evaluate and implement best practices in education.

McCrory opened the speech by talking about what he learned from his father.

"My dad would say, ‘Turn off the TV and go exercise your brain,'" McCrory told the room.

"That's the way I feel about education. I've had a passion for education since I was a young boy. I have a great admiration for teachers and they have a greater challenge than any one in this room at this time."

McCrory continued by saying the state needed to produce students who could find jobs in a competitive world, and said he is often told by businesses that they are having a hard time finding qualified applicants.

He said he recently visited a Caterpillar plant in Clayton and said, "The first thing they told me is, ‘We have to have more engineers.'"

He said a woman in the Nash-Edgecombe area told him she was having a hard time finding qualified technicians for jobs that paid $75,000 or more.

"When employers are begging for qualified applicants in a state with the fifth-highest unemployment in the nation, where people are hurting, where people are struggling, especially in our small rural towns throughout North Carolina, that tells me we have a disconnect between commerce and education. And right now all of us need to come together to eliminate this gap."

McCrory addressed the sensitive area of teacher pay. His proposed budget had a 1 percent increase for state employees, which would include teachers, but the budget he signed had no raises for state employees.

"That proposal [for a 1 percent raise] did not survive and one of the main reasons was Medicaid," McCrory said. He pointed to $500 million in " unbudgeted Medicaid expenses."

"That money alone could have paid for a  3 percent raise for state employees," McCrory said. "We've got to get control of our Medicaid costs. Until we can control Medicaid spending, we're going to continue to face this problem year in and year out."

He did say that the changes in the tax system passed this year would help teachers, saying that a person making $40,000-$45,000 would effectively get a 1 percent raise.

"That's not nearly enough but that is some good news," McCrory said. "There is no denying that today's teacher pay scale is archaic."

There were dozens of protesters outside the event who were unhappy with the Republican budget that McCrory signed.

Reporter Jonathan Rodriguez contributed to this report.


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