This morning, members of the House education budget subcommittee floated a list of budget options for public education that included potentially restoring $259 million in unspecified, recurring cuts to the state public school budget. This amount is equivalent to the state providing funding to “backfill” the loss of federal EduJobs dollars that will expire in September of this year. The options list also included potential elimination of a $74 million cut to the schools that is scheduled to take effect at the beginning of FY2012-13. If both options were adopted, it would effectively fund the total public school budget, comprised of state, federal, and local funds, at roughly the same overall level as FY2011-12.
Superintendents of education from across North Carolina ranked elimination of the LEA Adjustment as their highest priority for lawmakers at their quarterly meeting in March. While the House appropriations committee’s options would fall about $170 million short of fully eliminating this recurring cut, the committee’s inclusion of these options is encouraging for educators and child advocates alike. Given the expiration of this last piece of federal assistance, inaction on the part of lawmakers will result in $333 million less at work in North Carolina’s public schools this year than the year before.
Unfortunately, the options list did not include any suggestions as to where to find the money. Lawmakers have not given direct indications as to where they may look for the money, but in any case, money to undo the LEA Adjustment must be recurring in nature. If this recurring cut is patched with one-time money, it’s only a temporary fix. While legislators have a relatively modest amount of non-recurring money with which to alter the budget this year, including the $232 million revenue surplus, nothing short of raising new revenue can avoid a situation where in order to return funding to public schools, it must be taken from elsewhere in the budget. The biggest question now is: where?