ROCKINGHAM — A shady budget process and “damaging” education cuts left District 25 Sen. Gene McLaurin with mixed feelings about his first regular session in the N.C. General Assembly.
“One thing that really concerned me at the end of the session was when budget discussions were taking place behind closed doors,” McLaurin said of the private meetings held by Republican leaders. “That is not good public policy and the citizens of North Carolina deserve more transparency.”
Only now, McLaurin said, are the implications of some of the budget’s provisions coming to light.
“We are finding out some of the pieces of legislation that we really didn’t have enough time to discuss,” he said. “In the future that is going to be a big priority of mine.
“We should open up that budget process, so that any bill being discussed, especially those that relate to spending taxpayer money, need to be fully vetted and discussed. Regardless of which party is in control.”
The long-time Rockingham mayor said voting alongside Republicans made sense on a number of issues, including a recent bill that will expand drug testing for recipients of Work First and TANF, a state-administered program for low-income families funded by the federal government.
But the cuts to education included in this year’s budget were another story.
“I think the majority party came in with an agenda to put more vouchers out there and support charter schools, and they’re hurting public education,” he said.
McLaurin, although not opposed to charter schools in principle, said legislators have got to be “very careful when putting resources toward vouchers for private schools,” saying it could be particularly harmful to public education in rural communities.
Supporters of vouchers say that allowing for school choice will create competition and force public schools to improve, but McLaurin said it takes funds away from public schools that “can’t say ‘no’ to students.”
“Adding to class size and reducing the opportunities that young people are going to have, particularly in rural areas, is a bad thing,” he said. “Our state constitution makes it clear that every child should have equal access to a quality education.”
McLaurin said that teacher pay in North Carolina is “too far behind the national average,” and a “greater commitment” is need to improve. He encouraged educators to contact their representatives and “speak loud and clear to make sure every child has a chance.”
When the General Assembly opens for its short session in 2014, McLaurin said that he will be returning to Raleigh a wiser, more effective representative of the people.
“When you vote on almost 9,000 bills, you’re not going to please everybody,” McLaurin said. “But I built great relationships on both sides of the aisle, which is what I think citizens had in mind when they elected me.”