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Hagan says Tillis' interest to cut US Education Department could hurt NC teachers, students

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GREENSBORO, North Carolina — Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan suggested Tuesday that state House Speaker Thom Tillis would work to cut public school jobs and student aid if he replaces her on Capitol Hill, citing his remarks during a debate in April.

Tillis' campaign said Hagan is misleading the public.

Hagan held a news conference at Guilford County Democratic Party headquarters to attempt to capitalize on Tillis' comments, made during a Republican primary debate in April. When asked which federal department he'd actively campaign to eliminate if elected, Tillis mentioned the U.S. Department of Education.

"That'd be the first priority when I become senator — clawing back the regulations and at some point wonder whether or not it even needs to exist in its current form," Tillis said in the televised debate at Davidson College.

Hagan's campaign cited department and congressional documents to estimate abolishing the department could eliminate Pell Grants for North Carolina college students and reduce or end federal public school funds in schools with high percentages of low-income children that support 585,000 students and pay for 7,000 workers. Funds for special education and technical education also could go away, the campaign said.

"Eliminating the Department of Education is a fringe, out of the mainstream idea that runs against our commonsense North Carolina values," Hagan said in a release, adding it's "just one more reason Speaker Tillis has the wrong priorities."

Tillis campaign spokeswoman Meghan Burris said Tuesday that Tillis believes college student financial aid and school assistance should be protected, but the department could be run more efficiently and help students' needs better. During the debate, Tillis said the department is full of bureaucrats making six-figure salaries on average who are "forcing teachers to spend more time preparing reports than actually intervening with children and educating them."

Hagan has "once again attempted to mislead North Carolinians, just as she's tried to mislead them" on other issues, Burris said in a statement, citing the federal health care overhaul and problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Hagan's news conference, which also included speeches by a public school teacher and college student, allowed her to reinforce the argument that North Carolina's public school system has suffered under Tillis' watch as speaker since 2011 through spending cuts for teacher assistants, textbooks and little or no teacher pay raises.

Tillis says tough decisions had to be made to close a large shortfall in Raleigh, and in the new budget teachers are getting their largest pay increase in several years. Tillis' campaign also says Hagan, a former state senator, voted for and helped write a budget proposal in 2005 that cut public school funding in some areas.

Libertarian Sean Haugh is also running in November for the seat held by the first-term incumbent Hagan.

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