By Rob Thompson
On Monday, legislative budget writers released the proposed state budget for FY 2018-19. In past years this event would have kicked off an intensive round of hearings, with the opportunity to debate provisions and amend the details. Not this year. No opportunity for amendments will be allowed during committee hearings on the budget or during the floor debate in either the House or the Senate.
Here are three major problems we found in our review of the proposed budget:
Early Education Funding Diverted
In February, Congress passed bipartisan legislation signed by President Trump that provided states with the largest increase in history to help more working families afford high quality child care. Of the approximately $74 million in new annual funding that North Carolina is projected to receive, the proposed budget uses $50 million for other purposes. With over 50,000 children on a waiting list for child care assistance, this is a significant missed opportunity to provide more children with the early education they need to get off to a strong start.
Suicide Prevention Lifeline Not Funded
North Carolina’s Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which receives an average of 5,000 calls per month, was not funded in the state budget released Monday evening. Without funding, the Lifeline will be forced to cease operations on July 1, 2018. NC DHHS was notified in October 2017 that the Mental Health Block Grant funds could no longer be used to fund the Lifeline. As such, a long-term solution must be secured to ensure that this critical service is not interrupted. Continuity of this service is critical to preventing suicide in North Carolina. Nearly 1 in 10 high school students reported attempting suicide in the 2015 NC Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
Funding for School Support Personnel Is Non-Recurring
The $10 million allocated to local school districts for school nurses, social workers, counselors, and psychologists is non-recurring, meaning that this funding will expire on June 30, 2019. This puts school districts in the challenging position of having to fill positions, when funding will for those positions will expire after 1 year. North Carolina currently has a serious shortage of school nurses, with fewer than ⅓ of middle and high schools having a full-time school nurse available.
With no opportunity for amendment it remains unclear whether provisions like these will have a chance at repair before the 2018-19 budget is adopted.