Dental Education in North Carolina
Legislative processes are inherently uncertain. Until the final gavel sounds, there are no guarantees about which bills will pass, what priorities will be funded, who will win or lose.
That said, it is May 8th and the Joint Plan for Dental Education remains on track. The ECU legislative team and our supporters have worked hard, both in Raleigh and in a series of forums throughout the state, to ensure the success of this plan that is so vital to the health and the economy of the entire state. Seventy-nine of 100 counties do not meet federal oral health standards. Twenty five counties have two dentists or fewer in the entire county. ECU’s responsibility in the joint plan for Dental Education (unanimously approved by the statewide Board of Governors) is to address this crisis in the underserved areas of the state.
ECU received approval last fall to offer the doctor of dental surgery degree. What we do not yet have is the funding from the state to build the School of Dentistry, to build 10 clinics throughout the state that will serve the neediest populations, and the funds to operate the School. What is the status of our funding request in the legislature?
First, remember that the joint plan requires significant funding. ECU is requesting $87 million in capital funds as well as operating dollars. Chapel Hill’s request is $96 million. The Governor’s budget included the ECU portion of the Joint Plan in a bond package that would require approval by the citizens. However, we have worked hard to secure enough funding this session to keep the School on track, to complete the architectural work, and to begin the utilities work. In addition, we are working on options for funding that would ensure that there is no delay in our goal of getting the first class of 50 in Greenville for the fall of 2010.
Because we are addressing a critical state need, because ECU has the expertise and the track record to be successful, and because we have strong support from President Bowles and our local legislative delegation as well the leadership of both chambers, I view the Joint Plan to be exactly on track. The preliminary house budget is exactly that... preliminary. It is an important success that both capital and operating dollars are included in the House budget. While some reports have been pessimistic about the house budget, this pessimism is simply a failure to understand how the process works. We fully expect additional funds to be added during the remainder of the session. To use a baseball analogy, the game is in the second inning and we are ahead. We have the Governor’s support, we’re in the House budget, and we have strong friends in the Senate. Stay with us over the next two months and we will be successful.