This is the fourth post of a week-long blog series that seeks to uncover just how far behind North Carolina’s current services levels are compared to pre-recession levels as well as how far behind the state would fall if the House and Senate tax plans were implemented. Previous posts are available here, here, and here.
North Carolina’s revenues are slowly recovering but still deeply damaged by the recession. Regaining the ground that we have lost will be more difficult in the coming years because state lawmakers are pursing deep and lopsided tax cuts that will put at risk the critical public services that help build the engines of long-term economic growth.
There is much ground to be regained in North Carolina’s public education system, which prepares our children for the jobs of the future and participation in civic engagement.
North Carolina is investing less in public education than when the recession began. Total state funding declined by 10 percent since the 2008 fiscal year while enrollment increased by 2 percent—a modest but steady rate. This means that there are $883.1 million fewer dollars (adjusted for inflation) in state funds available today for education compared to 2008 despite having 31,000 more students to educate. This translates into a 12 percent drop in per-pupil state funding, as illustrated in the chart below.
It is no surprise that teachers, administrators, and students have increasingly been challenged to do more with less. Funding cuts have been made in areas such as textbooks, transportation, classroom and instructional material, and professional development. And, school systems have been allowed to increase classroom sizes above mandated maximum limits. Indeed, cuts in education have had a considerable impact in the classroom.
Rather than enacting lopsided tax cuts that will primarily benefit the wealthy and profitable corporations, state lawmakers should set their sights on broadly shared public investments, including living wages for teachers and teacher’s assistants across the state. North Carolina currently ranks 46th in the nation for average teacher salary, which is nearly $10,000 below the national average. Even worse, the average teacher salary is declining faster in North Carolina than any other state in the nation.
The K-12 system is expected to grow by an additional 17,000 students in the next school year alone, according to the Department of Public Instruction. Yet, after the implementation of a tax plan that makes deep cuts to revenues, it will be even less likely that the state will be able to keep up, let alone catch up, with the needs of a growing student population and the workers who devote their careers to the teaching profession.