You don’t have to be a rocket scientist or a high-powered university economist to understand that North Carolina has been a destructive pattern of underfunding public education for some time now. Just walk into any public school in the state and ask the teachers and administrators and let them tell you about their falling salaries, growing classes and inadequate facilities.
This is not a partisan attack — leaders from both major political parties have participated in the process. As NC Policy Watch reporter Lindsay Wagner reported last week:
“Let’s examine the numbers. In the 2008 fiscal year budget, North Carolina spent $7,714,429,569 on K-12 public education. But when you adjust those numbers for inflation, that amount would have been $8,402,393,062 in today’s dollars.
The 2014 fiscal year budget will spend $500 million less than the 2008 inflation-adjusted budget, in the amount of 7,867,960,649. And the 2014 budget fails to keep up with the needs of a growing student population. The Office of State Budget and Management estimates that $7,984,924,757 is actually needed to maintain current service levels of education.
So while the 2014 budget would spend more than the previous year’s budget, the appropriation isn’t enough to keep up basic services.”
Put simply, North Carolina’s education appropriations — which were inadequate five years ago — have fallen still further since that time. A big part of that fall was the result of the Great Recession, which caused a collapse in state revenues in 2009-10. In more recent years, however, the decline/stagnation has been the result of state leaders cutting taxes and refusing to make up the ground that was lost as a result of the economic downturn.
And that’s one big reason so many people are so angry now. It’s one thing to hold things together with duct tape and bailing wire when the economy is in a freefall, but to perpetuate the process when state revenues have stabilized and rebounded (i.e. what state lawmakers have been doing for the last three years) is unconscionable.
And about the only thing that’s worse than imposing additional cuts at such a time is hiding behind a dishonest P.R. smokescreen (as conservative politicians and propaganda groups have been doing in recent days) in which you allege that overall funding for education has “increased” even though the actual appropriations are not even keeping up with inflation.
Fortunately, as we noted in this space earlier this morning, this is a bit of fast-talking spin that not even conservative true believers are buying. The only real question is how long the far right pols and think tanks will keep trying flog this bill of goods before they own up to what they have done and at least attempt to defend it with some degree of honesty.