RALEIGH, NC -- A proposed solution to a North Carolina public school class-size crunch received final legislative approval Tuesday, with most House Democrats backing the Republican bill despite unrelated provisions within it that target Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.
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The House voted 104-12 for the wide-ranging compromise measure, which already received a final OK in the Senate last week.
The measure now goes to Cooper's desk. The legislature also adjourned Tuesday until mid-May, so Cooper will have 30 days to decide whether to sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature. Cooper is reviewing the bill, spokesman Jamal Little said in an email.
The measure would phase in class-size reductions for kindergarten through third grade by 2021, rather than have them fully take effect next fall. It would help school districts avoid having to increase class sizes in higher grades and eliminate art, music and physical education instructors in exchange for hiring more K-3 classroom teachers, and provides $61 million for the so-called program-enhancement instructors.
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"This is an important day for early-childhood education for our elementary students in this state, and their families and their future," said GOP Rep. Nelson Dollar of Wake County, senior co-chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "Vote for their future, the future of our children."
Thirty-three of the 44 House Democrats present voted for the bill, although many had to swallow hard before pressing their "yes" buttons. That's because the measure also contains alterations to the composition of the state elections and ethics board that run counter to what Cooper wants.
The bill also would require that the $58 million utilities behind the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline have agreed to provide, would go to schools in eight eastern counties along the pipeline's proposed route. That is a change from what Cooper's office had negotiated with the utilities, which was that the money would go toward environmental mitigation and economic development.
Democrats complained that Republicans deliberately put them in a bind with an up-or-down vote on the whole package, which Rep. Robert Revies, a Lee County Democrat, called "Frankenstein's monster."
"It's not a clean bill ... for reasons we understand, but many of our people across this state will not," said Democratic first-term Rep. Cynthia Ball of Wake County, who ended up voting for the measure. "My yes vote will be just that - for the kids."
House Minority Leader Darren Jackson of Wake County, who voted no, warned that the provision changing the makeup of the elections and ethics board could lead to more court battles that may throw out the entire law, including the education provisions. Last month, a majority of justices on the state Supreme Court struck down the board, which was supposed to be comprised of four Democrats and four Republicans. The bill would add a ninth board member who could be neither a Democrat nor a Republican.
Jackson said that doesn't fix the problem, and at the same time, "any attempt to do anything different than that is just inviting more litigation and it's clearly unconstitutional."
But GOP Rep. David Lewis of Harnett County said the ninth member would "break the deadlock that the judges were concerned about" with a divided partisan board.
The House went home without voting on whether to accept or reject a Senate version of legislation that attempts to expand the state's response to unregulated contaminants including GenX. The chemical was dumped by a Bladen County plant into the Cape Fear River for decades until last year. That means any compromise may not be voted until May.
Cooper spokeswoman Noelle Talley said it was "disgraceful" that no action was taken.
Lawmakers pass class-size bill, leave it on Cooper's desk