North Carolina provides a support system for seniors through the Aging and Adult Services Division in the Department of Health and Human Services. Approximately 1 in 10 seniors in North Carolina live in poverty and rely on these supports. Yet, under the House FY2012-13 budget proposal, funding for Aging and Adult Services would decline by approximately 3 percent going back to FY2007-08. This drop in funding would be accompanied by a 24 percent increase in population growth for the adult population 65. Other estimates show the senior population will double over the next 20 years and is the fastest growing population in the state. The state cannot afford to fall behind and underfund services for this growing and valuable community.
In the worst economic downturn since the 1930s, the Great Recession destroyed hundreds of thousands of North Carolina jobs, driving up unemployment and underemployment even as the national economy entered a formal recovery. As workers lost their jobs and watched their incomes drop, many also lost their employer-provided health insurance or saw the cost of private health insurance move beyond their reach. As a result, demand for Medicaid—the Federal-State partnership that provides medical care for low- and middle-income people—exploded, as the number of individuals with sufficiently low incomes to be eligible for the program grew by 27 percent from the first Fiscal Year of the Recession (FY2007-08) through the current Fiscal Year (FY 2012-13). At the same time as the need for Medicaid exploded, the state decided to reduce the resources available to meet those needs, cutting the Medicaid budget by 6 percent over the same period and requiring patients, doctors, hospitals, and clinics to serve the health care needs of North Carolinians with significantly reduced financial support.
Despite a contracting economy over the course of the Great Recession, North Carolina has continued to grow. Yet at the same time, state investments in areas vital to the future workforce of the state such as early care and education has plummeted over the last several years. Funding for programs such as Smart Start, subsidized child care and NC Pre-K (formerly known as More at Four) has obviously completely failed to keep up with demand as the figure above shows.
A recent analysis by the Budget and Tax Center shows that funding for K-12 education has declined by almost 10% over the past 5 years while enrollment has increased by more than 2%.
While the counterintuitive claim that money does not matter in education has become surprisingly common in recent years, the effects of the declining investment in education have already been felt in the place that matters most for our state’s children – the classroom.
One of the few certainties in education policy is that high quality teachers are the key to improving student achievement, and over 90% of spending on K-12 education goes into teacher salaries. North Carolina’s disinvestment in education has led to teacher layoffs as well as stagnation in teacher’s salaries, which lag well behind the national average. Without investing in teachers, North Carolina schools will struggle to attract the highest quality teachers to the profession.
Other vital services that directly impact the classroom experience have been cut completely or dramatically reduced in recent years, including funding for textbooks, classroom supplies, teacher mentoring, and professional development.
North Carolina’s population is growing and the need for a highly educated workforce to keep pace with the demand for highly skilled jobs is already upon us. Now is the time to invest heavily in education as a cornerstone of North Carolina’s long term plan for economic development rather than continue to chip away at the public education system that educates the overwhelming majority of citizens.
Community colleges train the state’s workforce and support the economic development goals of the state. During downturns, community colleges are one of the institutions that see their enrollment increase significantly as workers return to upgrade their skills or retrain for new careers. This recession was no exception, with community college enrollment increasing by 27 percent since Fiscal Year 2007-08. Despite this growing demand, the state’s investment to ensure that community colleges can continue to serve a growing student population with the relevant and effective education and skills training declined by 1 percent. Without adequately funding community colleges, North Carolina is falling behind and losing a key tool in the effort to achieve and sustain long-term economic growth.