Politicians on the spot

Politicians on the spot

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United education front puts N.C. legislators on hot seat

N.C. legislators may have to pinch themselves to see if they’re dreaming. Not only has a state budget surplus materialized, but the three branches of public education in the state are working far more closely than before.

That’s good for North Carolina’s schoolchildren, who will be the beneficiaries if turf battles and silos give way to hand-in-hand planning. But it also gigs lawmakers. When public schools, universities and community colleges are united on priorities and funding, it’s a lot harder to wiggle out of funding obvious needs.

Public schools, universities and community colleges are traditionally adversaries at budget time. They usually set priorities independent of each other and compete in the General Assembly for the same pot of money.

This year, that’s changed. They’re not holding hands and singing kumbaya, but it’s close. What’s different? For starters, the University of North Carolina system, which is the 800-pound gorilla, has set improving K-12 education as its top priority. That means its budget focuses more heavily on additional resources for teacher education, math and science education and summer school.

Some moves show outright collaboration. The UNC system and the state community college system have formed a higher education cabinet that finds and implements ways the two systems can work together on the state’s problems — like filling a shortage of teachers and nurses. The two systems have even endorsed each other’s budget requests: an additional $300 million for UNC and $146 million for community colleges. (more…)

About the author

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina.