Posted this morning on the Charlotte Observer editorial page:
N.C. lawmakers must adequately fund schools
Superintendents: Injudicious education cuts hurt students
Listen up, N.C. lawmakers! North Carolina school superintendents are saying something you need to hear – and do something about.
Legislative actions since 2009-10 have required that school districts return nearly $1.5 billion to the state – including $429 million last year for the current school budget. School superintendents across the state gathered in Durham Tuesday to lambast the devastating impact: Teachers, teacher assistants, assistant principals, central office personnel, janitors, school resource officers (police) have all been laid off. Additionally, districts have had to cut supplies such as textbooks, delay bus replacements (and in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ case institute unpopular changes in school start times to reduce the number of buses needed), increase class sizes and reduce or end teacher training.
All have hurt the schools’ ability to teach, and students’ progress in learning.
Warren County School Superintendent Ray Spain rightly called the legislature’s actions – in which lawmakers appropriated money for schools but then mandated that districts make “discretionary” cuts and return it back to the state – as robbery “at gunpoint.” Retiring McDowell County Superintendent Ira Trollinger was also right to say that the state’s political leaders had failed N.C. children.
Both Democrats and Republicans are at fault. Few lawmakers pressed enough for a budget that provided adequately for education. Preserving a temporary sales tax while the economy recovers from its biggest hit since the Great Depression could have helped ameliorate the situation. It surely would have put the districts in better shape as they face the end of federal stimulus money that the state used to pay teachers and that school districts used as a cushion against cuts last year.
Instead, the Republican-dominated N.C. legislature unwisely cut those and other taxes. As a result, school districts like Scotland County, where the unemployment rate is a whopping 17.8 percent, had to cut nearly 200 school jobs. In Mooresville, 10 percent of the system’s workforce was cut. Just Tuesday night, the Union County schools cut more than 55 teacher jobs and 350 teacher assistants for next year’s budget because of an anticipated shortfall for 2012-13.
These realities make recent TV ads by the conservative Americans for Prosperity egregious. The ads tout the Republican legislature’s accomplishments and say the lawmakers put money in the state budget “for 2,000 more teachers.” But the ad doesn’t reveal the sleight-of-hand involved, with the legislature appropriating money then requiring school districts to give it back through cuts other than those teacher jobs.
Americans for Prosperity and N.C. Republican leaders like House Speaker Thom Tillis are craftily trying to reframe the school districts’ financial distress as being an over-reliance on federal stimulus funds that are going away. But the truth is those federal funds were only necessary because lawmakers mandated cuts by school districts, taking away money schools needed. Without that federal money, school districts would have been in more dire straits.
It’s time to stop these shenanigans, and do what’s best for N.C. children. The legislature’s short session begins in May. Lawmakers should right this wrong then.