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NC Budget and Tax Center

The budget passed by House members last week makes clear that North Carolina remains hampered by costly decisions made in recent years. Despite modest improvements in some areas of the budget, important public investments that drive the state forward remain well below pre-recession spending levels. The House budget is a reflection of choices and an example of missed opportunities.

Modest funding increases in the House budget are primarily the result of moving the goal post. For example, fully funding enrollment growth for our public schools and providing teachers and state employees a two-percent pay increase are typical budget practices, particularly in budgets crafted during a recovery.

The budget hikes various fees, increases tuition at community colleges, fails to reinstate the state Earned Income Tax Credit, and resorts to cutting funding from certain programs to fund others (e.g., the House reduced funding for textbooks in order to fund other areas of the public education budget).

Rather than address persistent underinvestment and seize opportunities to support a stronger economy, state lawmakers will allow another round of corporate tax cuts to go into effect – reducing annual revenue by $100 million in the first year, $350 million the second year, and more than $500 million in subsequent years.

Revenue lost just from these additional corporate tax cuts, which state leaders seem unwilling to debate, could provide funding for much-needed public services that strengthen our communities and the state’s economy. Read More

Commentary

In case you missed it over the weekend, a middle school teacher from Forsyth County named Stuart Egan had a fine op-ed in the Winston-Salem Journal in which he debunked the myth that flawed teachers are somehow the biggest problem facing our public schools. As Egan explained:

“Earlier this year, The Washington Post published a study by the Southern Education Foundation that found an incredibly high number of students in public schools live in poverty. And in April, the journal Nature Neuroscience published a study that linked poverty to brain structure. All three publications confirm what educators have known for years: Poverty is the biggest obstacle in public education.

Yet many “reformers” and North Carolina legislators want you to believe that bad teachers are at the root of what hurts our public schools. Just this past November, Haley Edwards in Time Magazine published an article titled “Rotten Apples” that suggests that corporate America and its business approaches (Bill Gates, etc.) can remedy our failing public schools by targeting and removing the “rotten apples” (bad teachers) and implementing impersonal corporate practices.

I understand the analogy: bad teachers, rotten apples. However, it is flawed. Removing rotten apples does not restore the orchard. Rather, improving the orchard makes for better apples. Teachers are more like farmers, not apples. Students are what are nurtured. What we need to do is improve the conditions in which schools operate and the environments in which our students are raised; we must address elements that contribute to poverty.”

Egan continues with the farming analogy:

“Another fallacy with the rotten apple analogy is that the end product (singular test scores) is a total reflection of the teacher. Just like with farming, much is out of the hands of the education system. One in five children in North Carolina lives in poverty and many more have other pressing needs that affect the ability to learn. Some students come to school just to be safe and have a meal. But imagine if students came to school physically, emotionally, and mentally prepared to learn. Read More

News

The N.C. House of Representatives released portions of its budget Thursday, and included several significant changes and some cuts for public higher education.

UNCsystemThe entire budget – which is expected to fill in gaps about whether raises are in store for state employees and teachers – is expected to be released Monday, and voted on by the Republican-led House that week.

Senate Republican leaders have not announced when their version of the budget will be done.

Several significant changes were trotted out by House budget writers this week for the state’s public higher education system.

The House did fund expected growth in the system but also calls for $44.3 million over the next two years in management cuts and would roll out a program that would push academically weak college students into a community college program before gaining entry into the state’s four-year universities.

Drew Moretz, the University of North Carolina system’s vice-president for government affairs, said the House calls for fewer cuts than what Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget proposed.

“It’s a better starting point than what the governor had given us,” Moretz said.

The system as a whole has had $658 million in management cuts since 2008-09, he said.

The House budget would also, for the first time, allow low-income students to get scholarships to virtually attend Western Governors University, an online education program that’s been touted as a low-cost education option by groups like the conservative John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

House lawmakers also want to delay more than 1,000 prospective students from attending the state’s public universities by requiring the UNC system to defer admissions to students who meet admissions standards but don’t have strong academic histories

Read More

Commentary

In case you missed it earlier today, be sure to check out this new and sobering release from the Justice Center on the sorry state of North Carolina’s investment in higher education:

North Carolina’s spending on higher education cut deeply since 2008
Shortchanging public universities and colleges reduces access to higher education, hurts economy

RALEIGH (May 13, 2015) — Even as most states have begun to restore funding for higher education that was cut during the recession, North Carolina has continued to cut funding for public universities, according to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.  As a result, tuitions have risen dramatically and the quality of education here has suffered, which will make it harder for the state to attract businesses that rely on a well-educated workforce.

“Smart investments in public colleges and universities will help to strengthen North Carolina’s economy,” said Cedric Johnson of the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center. “Communities with highly educated residents attract employers who pay competitive wages. Their employees then spend money in their community, boosting the economy of the entire area. That’s what North Carolina needs as our economy continues to recover from the damaging Great Recession.”

Nationwide, states are spending 20 percent less per student on higher education than they did in 2008, after adjusting for inflation. With such deep cuts in higher education investment, colleges and universities have had to raise tuition, cut spending, or both. As a result, tuition at four-year public colleges has grown nationally by 29 percent since the 2007-08 school year.

For North Carolina, costly tax cuts in recent years have hindered the state’s ability to invest in what works, such as its well-regarded public university system. State funding for higher education has been cut by more than 20 percent since 2008 when adjusted for inflation, according to the new report. Meanwhile, the average tuition at a public, four-year college increased by 36 percent during this period. Read More

Commentary

School-vouchersIf you still harbor any doubts about what the American far right has in mind when it comes to the future of public education, there’s a helpful reminder in Texas right now where ideologues are seriously advancing a new proposal to commence the process of doing away with it. As public schools champion Diane Ravitch points out his morning on her blog, the latest voucher proposal under consideration in the Lone Star state appears to be a truly a frightening mess.

Ravitch points readers to a recent and critical op-ed in the Houston Chronicle by Republican politico Chris Ladd (a fellow who, rather remarkably, writes under the moniker “GOP Lifer”) in which he describes the proposal that would both allow vouchers and a new and parallel funding scheme whereby some taxpayers could simply earmark their taxes to fund private schools. Here’s Ladd:

“These two bills would not merely privatize schools. They would privatize the school funding system as well, creating an entire parallel world free from the liberal horrors of a real education infrastructure. Taxpayers could simply exit the existing public school funding system in favor of their own private school funding entities which they control entirely…. Read More