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NC budget would fund start-up religious college

The state budget would send $75,000 to a new Christian university that launched in February, prompting criticism from some who don’t want taxpayer dollars going to a start-up religious institution. The budget calls for the money to come out of the UNC System’s budget and fund a “Leadership Development Training Program” at Mt. Calvary University, which is headquartered in Pender County.

The provision first surfaced in the conference committee budget and doesn’t appear in the original House or Senate spending plans. Senate Rules Chairman Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, represents Pender and requested the funding.

Mt. Calvary is founded by Jimmy Tate, a former president of Roanoke-Chowan Community College and former Pender County commissioner. The university’s website says its goal is to “ensure the development of a well-prepared religious workforce, equipped to study, research, and enter professions with unshakable Christian principles and foundations.”

But Tate says the $75,000 state grant won’t be used for planned religious degree programs in subjects like biblical studies. Instead, it will support the leadership program, a six-week class that meets one night a week to help train community leaders. Tate said the program is open to everyone, regardless of religious affiliation, and it will “let them know what the attributes of Christianity teach as it relates to leadership.” A total of 18 people signed up for the inaugural class in May, but Tate hopes to serve 200 more students by next year.

For now, the university holds classes in a former law office in Burgaw, but the plan is to eventually add classes in Wilmington and Duplin County. Rep. Deb Butler, D-New Hanover, said she’d never heard of Mt. Calvary University and was surprised to see the funding in the budget. “I just think it’s inappropriate,” she said. “They don’t have a track record of anything. You shouldn’t put leadership training and Christian values together with public dollars.”

Butler said if budget writers are looking to fund leadership initiatives in the Wilmington area, “we have superlative institutions that are capable of doing that.” But Tate says leadership training is lacking in rural Pender and Duplin, particularly in the wake of Hurricane Florence, and state support would help him serve students who can’t afford the university’s current $500 tuition fee. “These dollars are critical to help us sustain this and develop new leaders,” he said.