By Nyamekye Daniel
(The Center Square) – The North Carolina House voted June 4 in favor of a bill that supports opening a second campus for a one-of-kind STEM school.
House Bill 1136 would allow the state to use money accrued from a reduction to the state employer contribution rates for death benefits to fund the opening and operation of the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Morganton.
“The initial junior class was to enter in August 2021, but because of the budget issues that we’ve had this past year, the School of Science and Math was unable to get the operating funds they needed to hire the people to get ready for the opening of school,” said Rep. Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke, one of the bill’s sponsors. “So now, the proposal is that they will open August of 2022.”
Recurring funds automatically fund most of the state’s operations.
However, one-time expenses had to be approved through the spending bill in 2019. About $4.2 million in startup costs was written into the vetoed bill, the school’s chancellor, Todd Roberts, said in a statement about the new campus.
Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the state budget a few days ahead of the fiscal year, which started July 1, 2019. The House overrode Cooper’s veto in September, but lawmakers could not come to a consensus after a short session in January.
Republican lawmakers moved forward with 98% of the one-time funding through piecemeal bills, but the allocation for the Morganton school remained pending.
The two-year, public residential high school, with a primary campus in Durham, is the first of its kind in the nation, according to its website.
Construction of the new campus has continued because of $58 million from the 2016 Connect NC Bond, $15 million approved by the Legislature in 2018 and $8.3 million from private fundraising. Without operating funds, however, school officials could not hire or train the staff it needs to function.
The state employer contribution rates for death benefits will start to decrease July 1 by 0.03%, which would allow the state to transfer $3.3 million to North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics for operations, equipment and supplies, and 46 new positions at the Morganton campus.
HB 1136 also earmarks more than $8 million in reoccurring allocations and about $380,000 in one-time funds for the school over the next three fiscal years.
The bill passed the House unanimously, 120-0. It was sent to the Senate via special message.