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When Facts Get In the Way: “NC Real Solutions” public education budget claims fall apart

UPDATED: How does a loss of 915 teacher positions statewide magically become 2,000 teacher positions added? The answer: budget trickery. A video from Americans for Prosperity and Civitas [1] called “NC Real Solutions” claims that the 2011-13 state budget managed to cut taxes for working North Carolinians, stay balanced, and add 2,000 teachers to North Carolina’s public schools. The Budget and Tax Center disputes the truth of each of these claims. Here are the facts on the state budget and teacher positions, and we’ll follow up throughout the day on the real impact of the budget’s tax cuts as well as what makes a balanced budget – and even more importantly, what doesn’t.

Line 5 of the 2011-13 public education budget annotated committee report [2] (page F-1) appropriates $62 million in FY2011-12 for “Class Size Reduction in Grades K-3.” The line states that this appropriation will fund 1,124 “additional” teacher positions. If you add that position number to the 2012-13 appropriation in the same line ($63 million, for 1,144 teacher positions), you get 2,268 teacher positions – but only hypothetically. In order for these appropriations to result in the expansion of teacher position, there would need to be no other reductions in state funding that supports teacher positions, regardless of how they are funded. Unfortunately for NC Real Solutions, that simply isn’t true.

On the very same page, line 4, “LEA Adjustment,” made a $124 million unspecified cut to North Carolina’s school districts in the current school year (2011-12). Coupled with a major unspecified cut made to the public school budget in the 2010-11 state budget which didn’t take effect until this year, LEAs statewide must return nearly half a billion dollars in state appropriations to the General Fund before establishing their operating budgets. That fact alone outweighs, and undoes, any smaller line-item expansion in funding for classroom staffing in public schools, from the mountains to the coastline.

What the video may want voters to focus on is a small-picture statistic – the number of state-funded elementary teacher positions that grew by 2,000 from 2010-11 to 2011-12. But the number of federally-funded elementary teacher positions fell by 1,400 from 2010-11 to 2011-12, as well as a decrease of about 120 locally-funded elementary teachers. Overall, the DPI data shows just about 500 more elementary school teachers in North Carolina’s public schools than last year, far less than the 2,000 claimed.

This change is undermined by the cuts to teachers in other grades. Taken as a whole – which is the only way to gauge the classroom impact of these decisions – there are 915 fewer teacher positions in the public schools this year than last year.

North Carolina’s public schools have been doing more with less – educating more students with fewer teachers and other school personnel [3] – since the start of the Great Recession. Even hundreds of millions in federal recovery funding couldn’t balance out the loss of more than 16,000 school positions statewide [4] during this difficult time. Data from the Department of Public Instruction derived from the statewide public school payroll [5] – the same data cited by NC Real Solutions – clearly shows the magnitude of position losses made across the state’s LEAs. From 2010-11 to the current school year, 915 teachers and 2,125 teacher assistant positions were eliminated completely. Across all categories of positions, 4,500 public school positions have been eliminated since the current legislative budget took effect.