Commentary, Education

General Assembly’s latest spending proposal fails to meet schools’ basic needs

This week offered the General Assembly an opportunity to address two glaring needs in our public schools:

  1. Making progress towards delivering every child the education they are owed under our constitution, as required under the long-running Leandro court case; and
  2. Helping schools meet the increased costs of operating under the COVID pandemic.

In both cases, they have fallen well short of what this moment requires.

Earlier this week, we published analysis showing the extent to which the Governor’s budget proposal addresses Leandro. Now, the General Assembly has released its own spending plan, a proposed committee substitute for HB 1105. Not surprisingly, it does little, if anything, to try to provide students with the education they are owed under our constitution.

It is important to note that neither the Governor’s plan, nor the General Assembly’s, provide the sustained recurring investment necessary to deliver a sound basic education. But the one-time funding under the Governor’s spending plan potentially provided a bridge for building sustained investments in the next legislative session. Unfortunately, the General Assembly couldn’t even muster a short-term fix.

The General Assembly also gets a failing grade for addressing schools’ pandemic-related operating costs. The State Board of Education presented its additional funding needs last week. The Governor’s budget proposal satisfied nearly all of the State Board’s request. The General Assembly’s plan, however, falls well short.

In addition to inadequate funding, the General Assembly’s plan includes expansion of school choice schemes that will make it more difficult for traditional, inclusive public schools to meet their students’ needs. The plan would expand funding for North Carolina’s two virtual charter schools, despite their being consistently among the worst-performing in the state. The General Assembly also wants to expand eligibility for the state’s three voucher programs, largely by opening these programs to students who were already planning on attending a private school.

The lone bright spot in the General Assembly’s plan is a provision that would hold schools harmless for COVID-related enrollment decreases. This well overdue measure would certainly help our schools and deserves a stand-alone vote.

Ultimately, this spending proposal is par for the course for this General Assembly. They continue to pair a series of half-measures that fall short of meeting our state’s needs with toxic, controversial proposals that would benefit the donor class at the expense of regular North Carolinians. Come November, we’ll see if this approach continues to have success politically. In the meantime, however, we can all recognize that it’s an abysmal strategy for meeting people’s needs.

Kris Nordstrom is a Senior Policy Analyst with the North Carolina Justice Center’s Education & Law Project.

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