NC General Assembly concludes difficult session, charts future for NCSSM

Though grappling with a state budget shortfall in excess of $4 billion, North Carolina legislators have signaled their long-term support for the educational mission of NCSSM, unanimously approving a $3.34 million expansion budget measure to provide for final program planning and operational implementation of the NCSSM-Morganton campus. NC Governor Roy Cooper signed the legislation into law on June 19.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused the budget shortfall, legislators prioritized emergency response spending for the education and health care sectors, including $763,000 for NCSSM. Legislators also approved modest appropriations for enrollment growth and building repairs and renovations for the UNC System, of which NCSSM is a part. These funds will all be allocated by the UNC Board of Governors. 

Unfortunately, legislators did find it necessary to pause the NCSSM Tuition Grant for NCSSM Graduates, which will likely not be available for the 2020-21 academic year.

According to a joint statement issued by Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue (D-Wake), the NC General Assembly has concluded one of the most difficult sessions in recent memory:

“This session, the Senate faced the most difficult three-month period in our memory. Dealing with the simultaneous blows of a public health emergency and economic collapse challenged us, as leaders, in ways we have not experienced previously.

“Disagreements are inevitable, especially in trying times. But this body, as it has done so often in the past, rose to the occasion. Our caucuses found agreement, and oftentimes unanimity, on fraught topics ranging from COVID relief to budgeting to criminal justice reform. We delivered tens of millions of dollars to purchase needed personal protective equipment and to fund COVID testing expansion, changed statutes to meet new realities, and operated in good faith.

“The outlook for the rest of this year is uncertain. If the federal government delivers additional aid that calls for legislative action, we are prepared to return to Raleigh …”

Though legislators have thus far avoided sweeping reductions to recurring K-12 and higher education budgets, they’ve been forced to make countless short-term decisions affecting popular programs to curtail expenses, such as pausing the tuition grant.

Construction on the new NCSSM campus in Morganton is slated to complete in the summer of 2021, just in time to facilitate the application and enrollment process for students to arrive on campus in August 2022. The curriculum will be uniquely tailored to data science, a first for a US public high school. Once fully operational, more than 100 employees will work on the 67-acre campus to support 300 full-time residential students and an undetermined number of part-time online students. By 2024, the operating budget for the campus will grow to be approximately $12.5 million, increasing the total size and scope and students served by NCSSM by 50 percent.

“We are incredibly grateful for the leadership and stewardship of our General Assembly, Governor and UNC Board of Governors during this very difficult time,” said Chancellor Todd Roberts. “Their unanimous support for our expansion to Morganton is an enthusiastic endorsement of our educational mission and further energizes our commitment to offer educational excellence and opportunity for all of North Carolina. I also appreciate the support of the UNC System and Board of Governors in prioritizing repair and renovation funding for our Durham campus and the tuition grant and hope that these priorities will be funded in the next legislative session.”