Lawmakers square off on schools
BY AMELIA HARPER
Sunday, October 15, 2017
N.C. Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram, D-Northampton, and N.C. Sen. Rick Horner, R-Wilson, were in Rocky Mount this week to discuss their perspectives on the state’s role in funding school construction.
The debate took place on Tuesday at the Booker T. Washington Theater as part of a series of Hometown Debates for Spectrum News North Carolina’s In Focus with Loretta Boniti. This week’s debate, which was hosted by the Institute for Political Leadership and the Rocky Mount Area Chamber of Commerce, will be aired at 11:30 a.m. and again at 8:30 p.m. today on channels 14 and 200.
During the hour-long debate, Horner and Smith-Ingram found some common ground. They both agreed that the education lottery funding formula, which was changed during tighter financial times in 2011, should be restored to its original intent as a supplement to state-funded education projects. The two state senators also agreed that funding methods, such as sales tax increases and local construction bonds that work in urban areas of the state, will not work in Eastern North Carolina.
However, the two lawmakers had widely divergent views of the main role the state should play in funding local school construction. Ingram-Smith argued that school construction funding was mandated by the N.C. Constitution.
“I believe that we share the greater weight of that responsibility as the General Assembly because of the constitutional requirement for us to provide a free and appropriate public education.” Smith-Ingram said..
Horner disagreed, saying that other issues in education were more important at the state level.
After the cameras were turned off, Horner also succinctly summed up his response to Smith-Ingram’s assertion that school construction needs were a constitutional issue.
“It’s not in the Constitution about construction, its a “free and uniform” school system — but it doesn’t mention anything about construction. If school construction is in the state constitution, I’ll eat it,” Horner said.
Matt Ellinwood of the N.C. Justice Center and Terry Stoops of the John Locke Foundation also participated in the debate, which is part of a series of three debates on education topics of interest to North Carolina residents.