Seven North Carolina House subcommittees signaled wide differences with Republican counterparts in the Senate as they voted Friday for portions of their state government budget for the next two years.
They gave details and debated publicly most portions of the House Republicans' fiscal blueprint through mid-2015. Some details of the full plan, which would spend about $20.6 billion in the year starting July 1, won't be released until early next week, when the chamber will vote on the entire proposal.
Republicans in the House and Senate want to work out a spending compromise by the end of the month and send it to GOP Gov. Pat McCrory.
The House budget-writers incorporated proposals already approved by the House in stand-alone legislation such as a public school safety initiative and publicly funded scholarships to children from low-income families to attend private or religious schools. The Senate budget approved contained neither.
The House education subcommittee narrowly defeated an amendment that would have removed "opportunity scholarships" that spend $48 million over two years to provide grants of up to $4,200 annually. A few Republicans have joined Democrats in opposing the grants, which are called vouchers by critics.
The same subcommittee's plan reduced funding for teacher assistants in kindergarten through third grade by 4 percent next year compared to a 25 percent reduction in the Senate budget and 20 percent reduction in McCrory's budget request in March.
The subcommittee called for restoring student class-size limits in grades K-3, while the Senate budget would give local school districts flexibility on student-teacher ratios. Republican Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, a middle school teacher from Wilkes, said public school teachers in early grades need some reasonable standards. Currently no classroom for kindergarten through third grade can be larger than 24 students.
"When you've got 35 6-year-olds in a room and they're all needing to go to the bathroom, that's a hard thing to manage," Elmore told the committee.
The House plan would cut the University of North Carolina System budget more than the Senate, and is more aligned with McCrory. The House plan would direct the system to find an additional $125 million in spending reductions across all 17 campuses next year compared to the $48 million demanded by the Senate. Like McCrory, the House proposes raising out-of-state tuition at UNC-Chapel Hill, N.C. State and four other campuses.
The House also would seek to save money by encouraging certain students who are accepted to a UNC system school to attend a community college for the first two years. The student would be guaranteed admission to the same school as a junior.
The subcommittees agreed to preserve funding for the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center, while the Senate budget eliminated annual funding for the private nonprofit.
Three alcohol and drug treatment centers and a residential school for children with mental health disorders that would be closed in the Senate budget avoided the chopping block by the House health budget panel.
The House didn't go along with the Senate proposal to transfer the State Bureau of Investigation from the oversight of Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper to a McCrory Cabinet agency. Still, Cooper doesn't care for the House provision that would move the state crime lab out from under the SBI and into another location within his agency. Critics have questioned the crime lab's independence in past years.
"The legislature should properly fund the SBI instead of continuing to push ideas on reorganization," Cooper said in a release.
While the Senate budget cut funding for 5,000 slots over two years for North Carolina's pre-kindergarten program - sending the money to child care subsidies - House GOP leaders would expand N.C. Pre-K by 5,000 seats. McCrory also sought the Pre-K expansion.