(The following was posted yesterday on the blog of the Chairman of the State Board of Education, Dr. Bill Harrison).
Senate leadership say that the budget they have presented this week provides more funding for public schools. This statement is misleading and dishonest. This budget is no cause for celebration or optimism. It does not dig school districts out of the $429 million discretionary reduction hole and it does not address the teaching positions lost when EduJobs funds ended. Instead, it adds new programs while whittling away at the basics schools need to function. It is similar to buying new appliances for your home while your roof continues to leak with every rainstorm. Most of us would address the roof first, the appliances later.
In addition, the Senate’s budget provides a 1.2 percent pay increase for state employees, but does not move teachers or other educators on the salary schedule at all. There is an $85 million appropriation included that can be used for teacher compensation among other things, but the language in the bill notes that it shall not be used to modify placement on the salary schedule. So, teachers are facing a fifth year with no movement in their salaries. In fact, given the current holes that local superintendents are facing in their budgets, they really have no choice in how to spend this $85 million. They will use it as best they can to save jobs, and minimize the harm this budget will cause to their districts.
In the larger picture, the Senate budget is more than a budget. It is a policy bill with many elements of Senate Bill 795, The Excellent Public Schools Act, slipped in. This bill includes significant changes to the school calendar, teacher tenure, school accountability, student promotion policies and more. This sidesteps conversation and discussion about the merits of SB795 and leaves those considerations for another day. Debate about this bill should include all lawmakers, but also parents, educators, business people, citizens, scholars – and indeed all those that recognize the importance of public education in our democracy. This is why I believe SB795 should be on the table during the 2013 long session and not before.
This is no way to make good public policy, especially policy that will have a significant impact on teachers, students and the state.
There are many things wrong with the budget the Senate has proposed. It does not include enough resources to support public schools. This budget also takes critical funds districts need to simply keep school doors open and uses them to support new programs and policies that have not been openly discussed or debated. It allows critical federal funds to end and to go unreplaced. This budget is the wrong choice for North Carolina. Funding for public schools comes from three sources – state funds, local funds and federal funds. To those in the schools, their concern is not the source of funds but whether or not there is ample funding to do right by students. This budget leaves us short.
Let’s deal with budget adjustments in the short session and set new policy directions in the long one when there is more time for full discussion. Let’s face the true impact of the very tough economic choices our state has made since 2008, recognizing how public schools are hurting and do what we can to help them. And, let’s work together to create a vision and a plan that focuses on a great public education system for a great state. Let’s take the time to do this right for all of North Carolina.