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A potential House-Senate deal for a North Carolina state budget would preserve funding for teaching assistant positions for early grades in public schools, the House's chief budget-writer said Friday.
Rep. Harold Brubaker, R-Randolph and senior co-chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said there's a plan afoot to set aside $260 million to $290 million more for K-12 education in the two-year budget than the House spending plan offered earlier this month.
The House-approved spending plan eliminated funds for assistants in grades 1-2, at a cost of $255 million. The Senate budget, currently set for a floor vote next week, would cut money for 13,000 teaching assistants by eliminating funds for them in grades 1-3. A Senate provision to hire more than 1,100 new teachers in grade 1-3 would remain in the proposed compromise, Brubaker said.
"We could say the budget adds more teachers and we could fund all teacher assistant positions," Brubaker told The Associated Press. The Insider newsletter first reported the rough dollar amount of the proposed education changes.
The additional money would likely come from shifting funds currently proposed for government building repairs and renovations, public employee retirement contributions and the state's reserve fund, Brubaker said.
The proposal, however, would have to clear several hurdles for it to become law.
The Senate, which like the House is now controlled by Republicans, would have to go along. Both Senate and House GOP leaders have discussed the Senate amending its proposed budget next week with the agreed-upon changes to save time with negotiations and then sending the measure to Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue.
Perdue said this week she would veto any final bill that fails to protect all of public education. Brubaker said he believes Republicans are trying to fulfill her request.
"If we progress in this manner, I don't see how she can veto it."
But the Perdue administration highlighted more concerns with the Republican plans, particularly the Senate measure. In a news conference at the state's emergency operations center, three Cabinet-level secretaries argued that GOP-backed cuts would diminish public safety, the environment and the state's economy.
Crime Control and Public Safety Secretary Reuben Young argued that budget cuts would make state law-enforcement and emergency-management officials less ready to respond to manmade and natural disasters, such as last month's deadly tornadoes in the eastern two-thirds of the state. The proposed Republican budgets would eliminate dozens of trooper positions and cut funding for the National Guard and Division of Emergency Management.
"It leaves, I believe, our most vulnerable population at risk," Young said. "With these proposed budget cuts, the public is less safe than it is right now."
Perdue spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson said the governor isn't changing her mind about what legislators must do to produce a budget she'd be willing to sign.
"This isn't moving the line," she said. "This is filling in parts of the story that haven't been told because there's a lot of bad things that will happen if this budget passes."
The key players in this debate are likely to be five House Democrats who voted with Republicans for the chamber's budget in early May. A final budget could withstand a veto override if four of the five support it.
Rep. Jim Crawford, D-Granville, said Friday that none of the five have a pledged to vote for a final measure that contains the extra education funding, but he said it does make the legislation more appealing.
"We felt like it was important to get those jobs back in the budget and to look after our school system," Crawford said. "I don't know if any of us are on board. We'll wait and look at the old budget and see where they took it from."
The Legislature and Perdue still have time to work out a budget deal -- the new fiscal year doesn't begin until July 1.