House bill would provide funding for new schools

Kevin Corbin

Brittney Burns – Staff Writer

Macon County Schools could see more than $2 million for new construction if a bond sponsored by Representative Kevin Corbin is approved in the state legislature. Corbin, along with three other members of the House and three senators sponsored the Public School Building Bond Act of 2017, House Bill 866, which would earmark $1.9 billion for North Carolina counties to address infrastructure needs in their districts.

Both the House and the Senate introduced the legislation which has passed first readings in both chambers and have headed to committee, moving its way toward passage. If it proves to be favorable, the legislation would be the first school construction bond in North Carolina in 21 years. Corbin noted that the need for the funds comes after a continued decrease in lottery funds, which were originally established for school construction projects across the state.

Originally, North Carolina legislators sold citizens on the lottery based on the promise that 40 percent of the state lottery funds would be designated for construction and infrastructure improvements for public schools in North Carolina. Not only has the amount of lottery funds sent to counties been decreased far below the initially promised 40 percent, sitting at around 17 percent this year, but the funds haven’t been spent on new construction. According to Corbin, nearly 75 percent of the lottery funds that were sent back to counties in N.C. since 2011 were used to pay off debt services rather than improve existing facilities.

For Corbin’s district, which includes Cherokee, Clay, Graham and Macon counties, the bond would mean $29,976,696 between the four counties, with Macon County getting $2,303,651. The state’s formula to determine how much each of the state’s 100 counties would receive is based on four factors: student population based on the Average Daily Membership (ADM) which all schools will receive; high-growth districts as well as low-wealth districts will receive additional funds; and the size of the school districts is also taken into consideration.

According to Rep. Corbin, counties are determined as low-wealth counties based on their tax rate and the county’s ability to provide a match for funds. Although Macon County is designated as a Tier 1 county, which means the state’s economic department ranks Macon County among one of the 40 most economically distressed counties in the state, Macon County still doesn’t qualify as a low-wealth county based on the bond act. Because Macon County has the third lowest tax rate in the state, and the county has been fiscally conservative in the past, while some state departments consider the county economically disadvantaged, the state sees Macon County as being able to provide a match for funding and therefore allocated them less money.

Neighboring Jackson County would receive $2,974,342 under the state’s proposal.

Under the House proposal, the state bond could funnel cash for construction to districts, including stipulations that no local match would be required of grants in small- and low-wealth counties.

If the measure is approved by both the House and Senate, North Carolina residents would be the deciding factor as the bond would appear on the November 2018 ballot.