One issue that counties in the state have been advocating for with lawmakers for a long time is increased funding for new school construction, and for the renovation and/or repair of exiting schools.
The need, especially in the rural, lower population counties has been articulated with an increasing urgency in recent years.
The North Carolina Association of County Commissioners (NCACC) listed increasing revenue for school capital needs as its number one legislative priority in the 2017 session.
Early in the session, sens Harry Brown (R-Onlsow), Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph) and Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell), sponsored SB234, “SBA Pay/Needs-Based Pubic School Capital Fund.”
The bill would take $75 million from lottery reserves to pay for school construction and additional funds to be used for pay raises for principals. The bill never made it to committee, however its intentions were inserted into the state budget.
One of the stated goals of the NCACC is to see the return of 40 percent of lottery revenues going toward school construction. While that goal was not realized, the state budget did take what they see as positive steps.
Johanna Reese, NCACC Director of Government Relations, said, “After years of advocating about the need, we are pleased to see a 75% increase in capital funding for public schools.”
In the state budget passed during the 2017 session, capital funding for schools went from $100 million to $130 million in year one and $175 million in year two. This increase will go toward a newly created Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund, which will provide targeted grants in Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties.
Tiers refer to economic well being as determined by the NC Department of Commerce. The 40 most distressed counties are designated as Tier 1, the next 40 as Tier 2 and the 20 least distressed as Tier 3.
The lottery will continue to provide $100 million in capital funding for public schools, the money going into the Public School Capital Building Fund. Tier 3 counties have traditionally received the lion’s share of that funding, based on school population, or ADM, Average Daily Membership.
When Brown was explaining this at the March press conference wherein he, Tillman and Hise presented SB 234, he said that in 2015-16, the total received for all Tier 1 counties was $11 million. Tier 3 counties received $47 million.
Noting that Hyde and Tyrell Counties received $40,000 each, Brown said, “You can’t even fix a roof for $40,000.
The $100 million that has been allocated in the past will continue to be allocated according to ADM. The additional $30 million in year one of the budget and $75 million in year two will go into newly created Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund.
Money will be distributed in the form of grants, according to a formula that will see the Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties receiving a larger share.
Money distributed from this fund can be used for new construction only. Also, there is a matching requirement. Tier 1 counties are to match one dollar for every three dollars given with a grant cap of $15 million, and Tier 2 counties are to match one dollar for every two dollars given with a grant cap of $10 million.
Counties that receive grants from the Needs-Based Fund will be ineligible for allocation from the Capital Fund for five years, making more money available for other counties from the Capital Fund.
While the North Carolina Constitution places the responsibility for providing education through public schools on the state, statutes and policy have divided the responsibility between the state funding operations and the counties funding facilities. Increasingly, however, the state has had to appropriate funds for facilities, especially in counties with lower populations and as a result, lower tax bases.
Reese acknowledged the progress made in the last session, but also acknowledges that the needs in smaller, rural low-population counties are great, and are not going away. Reese said, “There’s going to have to be a solution eventually. Even in the counties where the population is decreasing, there are school children, and they need a building to go to school in.”