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More public school teachers would be protected from layoffs and the University of North Carolina system would take a bigger financial hit under a House budget plan approved Thursday by a key committee that diverges from a spending proposal offers by the Senate.
The education subcommittee, which proposes spending for more than half of the state's budget, would use $90 million in North Carolina Education Lottery profits beyond what the Senate recommended in the budget it approved last week to hire teachers to reduce class sizes in early grades.
The lottery money, most of which would come from reserves and $73 million in higher-than-anticipated net revenues for the next fiscal year, would prevent an additional 1,635 teaching and teaching assistant positions from being eliminated statewide, said Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland, the education subcommittee's co-chairman.
The public schools "should be in a position where there should not be any additional classroom personnel that will lose their jobs" from any additional cuts, Glazier said. "We have strived to reduce every potential area where instructional personnel would have to be cut."
The $10.7 billion education plan, which will be incorporated into the full $18.9 billion spending proposal expected to be debated by the full House Appropriations Committee next week, requires UNC campuses and administration to find $239 million in spending cuts for the coming school year.
The UNC reductions, which the campuses can decide how to make, are $139 million more than the amount the Legislature had already directed the system to cut for the year starting July 1 in the two-year spending plan approved last summer. The Senate budget approved last week only sought $50 million more in reductions, or a total of $150 million.
UNC system President Erskine Bowles said the cuts would result in the loss of 1,700 jobs and could lead the 17 campuses to limit enrollment.
"In all of our previous analyses, we never imagined that reductions would reach this level," Bowles said in a statement. "This level of cuts would force us to reduce the numbers of students that we can accept on our campuses. Our current students would find themselves in far larger classes and would find that courses they need for graduation are no longer offered or are only offered sporadically."
Glazier pointed out a study that showed North Carolina ranks second among states in spending on higher education as a percentage of personal income.
Overall, the House would cut the state budget for the UNC system already in place for the coming year by 3.4 percent. The Senate's budget kept funding for UNC flat. The differences are some of what sets the stage for weeks of negotiations between the two chambers as they try to work out a compromise budget agreement to present to Gov. Beverly Perdue before July 1. The full House will vote on its budget by the end of next week.
Perdue has raised worries that fellow Democrats in the Legislature are using lottery money to make up for dwindling tax revenues -- the state is facing an $800 million revenue shortfall next year.
Local school districts say the $225 million in budget cuts the state directed them to make during the past year led to more than 5,000 job losses. The House education subcommittee didn't remove a requirement from the current budget that the districts find an additional $80 million next year -- which could still result in personnel cuts.
The House health subcommittee also voted on a $3.9 billion plan Thursday that differs with the Senate by restoring cuts to early childhood health and education programs such as Smart Start and providing only half of what the Senate provided for children's health insurance for low-income families.
The House also would keep in place two programs that would allow Medicaid patients living at home to get help with cooking, bathing and other daily activities. The Senate and the Perdue administration want to eliminate the programs and replace them with two new initiatives that would only provide coverage for about 40 percent of the 38,000 current patients, saving nearly $60 million.
The House is more willing to let an effort begun April 1 by state Medicaid for nurses to visit patients to take its course. said Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, co-chairwoman of the health subcommittee. The nurses are evaluating what level of services, if any, patients are eligible to receive. House Democrats believe the effort will save $34.5 million and reduce fraud.