Conference Budget Fails North Carolina
The state budget passed by the General Assembly today is one of the most disappointing pieces of legislation I have seen in my 30 years in education. Lawmakers have clearly chosen to put politics before the needs of students and in making that choice, they have let all of North Carolina down.
This budget has fundamental problems that will harm public schools and the state’s ability to attract new business and sustain its economy. It includes significant education policies that have not been discussed or debated among all stakeholders. They will most certainly change daily operations of our schools. These policies will require school leaders and educators to devote precious time and resources to new initiatives when they hardly have enough time and resources to do their basic duties. And perhaps the most troubling part is that there is little evidence to support the claim that these policies will be effective in boosting student achievement. Instead, some of this legislation will interfere, and even hinder, research-based work already being done at the state level to move public schools forward.
In terms of resources, this budget does nothing to help schools with the $259 million in federal Edujobs funding that districts are set to lose at the end of this school year. These funds currently support 5,400 jobs in our state. The people in these jobs are principals, assistant principals, teachers, teacher assistants and others who make North Carolina public schools what they are today. In some way or another, they all help prepare students for the future. Our students rely on them and come this fall, students will have to do without them. Class sizes will be larger, responsibilities on remaining staff will be greater, and everyone will suffer.
This budget also fails to fully address the “discretionary” reduction that has been chipping away at our public schools for years. In April, local school superintendents traveled to Raleigh to share the many ways in which the “discretionary” reduction has hindered their ability to provide all students the quality of education they need and deserve. We heard stories of how teachers were fired. We heard about classrooms that were so crowded, a superintendent had to run ahead of the fire marshal and move furniture out into school halls in order to pass inspection. We heard about buildings in need of repair and books and other resources in need of updates.
To answer these pleas from local superintendents, lawmakers put enough money in this budget to reduce this reversion from $504 million to $360 million. Yet, leaders of the General Assembly who praise this budget for helping K-12 public schools should consider this equation: Schools had to return $429 million last year to meet the discretionary reduction. This year, they will have to return $360 million and compensate for the loss of $259 million in Edujobs funding. When all is said and done, they will have $190 million less than they had last year to hire school personnel. I would challenge any lawmaker to find someone who would classify a $619 million funding loss ($360 million + $259 million) as a boost to public education.
When asked why the budget did not include more to reduce the “discretionary” reduction, House and Senate leaders said that the remaining cuts represent what was put in place before they took charge of the General Assembly. I doubt that fact will matter to any of the superintendents who will be struggling to keep their heads above water and keep their school doors open next year.
This budget is troubling in so many ways. It includes sweeping policy changes that have not been debated or supported by research. It ignores the impending loss of $259 million in federal funds and keeps a $360 million discretionary reduction in place on the premise that it was approved by the party in charge two years ago. This budget does, however, spell out the unfortunate priorities of the current leaders of the General Assembly: Partisan politics will always come before public schools, students, teachers and the good of the state.