News, Tracking the Cuts: The Dismantling of Our Public Schools

State Board of Education blasts proposal for 25 percent cut to Department of Public Instruction

Members of North Carolina’s top school board on Thursday took aim at a controversial Senate budget proposal to slash funding to the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) by 25 percent.

“I can’t imagine this for this department, which feels as if it’s doing so much more with so much less,” said board member Wayne McDevitt. “And now we’re being asked to do even more with even less.”

The Senate budget provision comes after more than $19 million in cuts to the state’s K-12 bureaucracy since 2009, with GOP lawmakers often attacking the public school agency as wasteful.

State officials say DPI performs myriad support tasks for North Carolina’s local school districts, although one of its key functions remains providing training and intervention in poor and low-performing districts.

The Senate spending plan approved last month includes a recurring $13.1 million cut to the agency’s budget, a reduction that the agency’s recently retired budget chief warned would “totally destroy” DPI’s operations capacity. The House budget unveiled last week skips the deep cuts. But it does authorize N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson to commission an independent audit of the agency, including anticipated savings in the following year of $1 million.

Also of note: Both the House and Senate include varying cuts to central office administration in local school districts. The House budget report includes a $5 million recurring cut in 2017-2018, expanding the cut to $10 million in the second year of the biennial plan.

The Senate budget report, meanwhile, calls for a $10 million cut in the first year, and a $15 million cut in the second year.

Senate Republican leadership argued last month that their plan focuses on their spending priorities—including about $28 million in spending over two years on an upgrade to the department’s business system—rather than bureaucracy.

Johnson, a newly elected Republican, has not spoken out publicly about the GOP-controlled Senate’s proposals, although state Board Chairman Bill Cobey—also a Republican—has called on the legislature to reduce the funding cut for DPI.

Cobey reaffirmed that criticism Thursday, pointing out that, despite years of cuts, the House budget charges DPI with 21 new reporting requirements to the legislature. The Senate plan, meanwhile, includes 15 new reporting requirements, he said.

“The work keeps coming,” said Cobey. “And I’m all about efficiency, but there are limits to efficiency.”

McDevitt said Thursday that he hopes the department’s staff is expressing its opposition to the legislature.

“They need to hear in real terms the consequences of a 25 percent cut to DPI or a $10 million cut to the central offices, he said. “Eventually the support collapses. I know that sometimes we’re dealing with dollars but are we speaking out?”

Cecilia Holden, the state board’s legislative liaison, said staff has questioned the funding reduction, although she emphasized that her office is focusing on areas of agreement with lawmakers.

Members of the state House are expected to take a final vote on their nearly $23 billion budget plan Friday.

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