Commentary

The best editorial of the weekend: The truth about education spending

Education-budgetThe lead Sunday editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer is a “must read” for anyone trying to make sense of the claims suddenly emanating from conservative politicians (and flooding the TV and radio airwaves) that they just love public schools and spending big bucks on teacher pay. As the N&O rightfully points out:

“Instead of investing in the state’s children, instead of improving education as a way for poor children to escape poverty and all children to achieve goals, the Republican-led General Assembly has chosen to reduce state taxes, mostly to the benefit of the wealthy and big corporations. Billions of dollars in tax revenue that could have lifted North Carolina’s schools to new heights instead has been diverted into tax cuts that have produced no tangible results.

Republican lawmakers are acutely aware of their culpability in this choice, but instead of defending it or apologizing for it, they’re denying it. Even worse, they’re claiming credit for increasing spending on public education. This is duplicity joined with sophistry, and it should stir the smoldering anger over the neglect of public schools into outrage.”

After debunking claims of the Pope-Civitas Institute and others that spending growth driven by inflation and growing student population somehow equates to a real and meaningful increase in state outlays, the editorial concludes this way:

“In terms of per-pupil funding, the most telling measure of a government’s commitment to public education, North Carolina remains near the bottom of national rankings. Indeed, after six years of Republican control and an improving economy, per-pupil funding in inflation-adjusted dollars has not returned to its pre-recession level. In 2008-09, it was $6,237. Today, it is $5,616

If Republican lawmakers think public school budgets are rife with waste and heavy with administrative workers, they should say that and defend tightening budgets as squeezing out the unnecessary expenses. They would be wrong, but at least they would be truthful. But doing it and saying they’re not is both wrong and dishonest.

Are Republican lawmakers serious about improving North Carolina’s public schools, or are they buying time, ducking their way through elections, hoping their alternatives – charter schools, virtual charters, voucher programs – take root and the “government schools” fade into a permanently ill-funded, second-class system that counties can bolster if they want?

If that’s their vision, let them run on it. Otherwise, Republicans will have to spend more on a long-term plan to improve teacher pay and better fund the operation and staffing of North Carolina’s public schools.”

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