Share story

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Republicans at the General Assembly said Thursday that a $35 million school safety package next year in the upcoming North Carolina state budget is a good start that will address critical needs, but Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper thinks it comes up short.

The budget adjustment bill, negotiated privately by House and Senate GOP leaders, contains safety and violence prevention improvements debated publicly by a House study committee following the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead.

More than half of the GOP package goes to grants for local school districts and law enforcement to hire additional campus police officers, school nurses, psychologists and social workers. Another $5 million would help expand statewide a mobile phone app to allow middle school and high school students to anonymously tell authorities about bullying, suicide threats and other violence. There’s also money for school security equipment such as cameras and reinforced doors, as well as for community-based health services.

Budget votes are expected sometime next week.

“We think this is a very solid first step,” Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican and co-chairman of the House school safety committee, said at a Legislative Building news conference.

Cooper asked legislators for $130 million toward school safety for the coming fiscal year, half of which would be used for building security upgrades for K-12 schools and on University of North Carolina and community college campuses. The GOP offers only $3 million for school equipment improvements, according to Republican documents.

And while Cooper wanted $40 million for public school districts to hire permanently at least 500 additional student support personnel, the $10 million Republicans earmarked for such positions were one-time grants, meaning there’s no assurance the money will always be available.

Rep. Linda Johnson, a Cabarrus County Republican and a top House budget-writer, said this and other money distributed as grants to local governments and districts applying for funds will help state officials and legislators collect data on staffing needs. It will help lawmakers better calculate funds necessary to address needs permanently, she said.

In news releases, Cooper’s office and the North Carolina Association of Educators, a key ally of the governor, blamed GOP tax policies for siphoning away funds that could otherwise address school needs. Cooper wants to block scheduled corporate income and some individual tax cuts from taking effect this January.

“These programs are important and the legislature’s investment is simply not enough to protect our students,” Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said.

Republicans also said they plan to seek Medicaid changes that could bring in from $30 to $90 million in additional federal dollars annually to pay for services for students that aren’t currently covered, such as behavioral health treatment and family counseling. But that money is likely more than a year away.

Legislative Democrats offered their own proposal this week that contained nearly all of Cooper’s requests, including new gun restrictions the GOP has little interest in considering. Democrats will be unable to offer the proposal as a budget amendment, which Republicans have said won’t be allowed. Cooper could veto the budget, but Republicans have the votes to override if united.

Several Republicans repeated the proposal would not be end of the financial investment and policy changes to improve student safety.

GOP Sen. Jerry Tillman, a retired principal from Randolph County, said he and his colleagues understand what’s at stake.

“We’ve got parents now that are worried every day that they’re not going to return safely,” Tillman said. “You deserve to know your kids are going to go home safe today.”