The House Education Appropriations Committee met again this morning and updated its spending cut plan for the next two years, the first version of which we saw last week. Under today’s proposal, public schools, community colleges and universities all get 2009-10 continuation budget cuts of a similar order: just over 11% on what their budgets would have been if 2008-09 funding formulas had been maintained. It is a stunning slash and burn. The Committee will vote on the proposal Wednesday.
If there is any silver lining to this black budget cloud, then it is this: With the economic outlook uncertain, the 2010-11 budget is only slightly more solid than a rumour at this point: the actual picture when the short session rolls around next year could be better. But it could also be worse. Every silver lining has a cloud.
The House’s continuation budget cut is 11.1% compared to the Senate and Gubernatorial cuts made in rosier days just a few weeks ago of 5.4% and 4.1% respectively. Those cuts weren’t so evenly distributed, however. The Senate cut the continuation budget for the universities and colleges by a little more than 1% but K-12 by 7.5 %. Governor Perdue leaned the other way and cut the continuation budget for schools 3.6%, colleges 4.3% and the universities, 5.6%.
Last week’s House education budget documents showed not enough cuts had been made to reach the target given to the committee by the ‘big Appropriations’ chairs. One major addition, or rather subtraction from the budget proposal today is a virtual across the board cut of 20% to all university centers.
These centers are interdisciplinary and cross-departmental entities such as UNC-Chapel Hill’s Odum Institute for Research in Social Science, UNC-Charlotte’s Urban Institute or NC State’s Institute for Emerging Issues. They provide much applied and policy-relevent research in science, medicine and public policy and are a critical meeting point between academe and our state enriching both our universities, by injecting a real world problem focus, and our state, by providing answers to pressing social problems. These centers also enhance cross-disciplinary academic fertilization, collaboration and study that deepens and contextualizes knowledge. Most of the centers operate on relatively small budgets and punch well above their weight. These cuts will bite deep.
The biggest new cut to the K-12 budget was the further reduction of $47 million to $70 million overall or around 30% of the 2008-09 budget to assist students ‘at-risk’ of dropping out. A big portion of this money actually funds school safety officers, i.e. campus security officers. The danger lies that the campus cops will remain while other proactive and useful interventions get a major haircut. This money will be partly offset by one-time federal stimulus Title I and disabilities (IDEA) money, although the way this ARRA money is being considered it may need to breed in short order if it is to cover all the budget holes this year.
K-12 staff and teacher furloughs remain on the House table (i.e. a shorter school year), although the one week (2009-10) and two week (2010-11) proposals were conspicuously absent from the documentation considered in the Education Appropriations Committee today. The decision on the school year will be made by the big Appropriations chairs.
As before, under the House proposal there will be larger class sizes (also in the Senate budget), the cutting of teacher assistants in third grade and across the board cuts to all manner of programs and funds.
I have been witness to much discussion around town that has focused on the hope that House leadership is essentially bluffing in declaring there will be no new revenues to help balance this most remarkable of budgets, that it is gathering bargaining chips ahead of negotiations with the Senate(such as the threat of a shorter school year), that the Senate proposal to raise a new half billion dollars while not the absolute best approach is very worthy of support, and that, when push comes to shove, the House will eventually agree to raise some more revenue and avoid some of the more egregious slashing and burning.
But with each passing day comes the growing doubt that absent more public outcry such as that which greeted the prospect of a shorter school year, the House’s actions are no bluff.