Top eight education cuts in the Senate budget proposal

Perhaps more aptly named the “worst eight,” here are, well, eight cuts to education that Senate GOP leaders want to make in the name of raising teachers’ salaries.

1. Career Status (aka Teacher Tenure)

While this one may not have a dollar value (?), for many educators it’s a priceless job protection that is not a guarantee of a job, but simply due process. Up for demotion or dismissal? Career status means you get to have a hearing where an objective human, often an ex-judge, reviews the facts and decides if the action taken against you is just.

If their budget passes as-is, Senate GOP leaders will require teachers to give up their employment protections if they want to pull themselves out of poverty and get the first meaningful raise they’ve seen in six or so years.

Why? Senator Berger says it’s because it’s too hard to fire bad teachers. Others have speculated that the destruction of tenure makes it easier to clear out expensive veteran labor and hire in new, cheaper labor.

2. Teacher Assistants

TAs have been on the chopping block for years. The Senate budget would pare them back even further, cutting state funding for them by half, or $233 million. Funds only remain for kindergarten and first grade TAs – second and third grade teachers must fend for themselves, even though class sizes are up.

Senator Tillman told WRAL that the research is cloudy in terms of TAs’ effect on students’ academic outcomes in second and third grades.

One has to wonder what the sample of students looks like in those studies that Senator Tillman has read. Are those students in large classrooms? Are they hungry, neglected, lacking proper clothes and soaked in urine? That’s what one second grade teacher in Beaufort County faces, and she didn’t have a full- time TA last year. So before she can teach those kids, she has to fix all of those problems first, or else they don’t learn.

How do you do that without a TA?

3. School Nurses

A $3 million cut may not seem like too big a deal, but consider this: The National Association of School Nurses says that the ratio of students to school nurses should be 1:750.

In North Carolina, that ratio currently stands at 1:1200 or more.

The Senate budget proposal would have a pretty substantial impact on that ratio and on low-income children, says Cheryl Blake, president of the School Nurse Association of N.C. And it’s especially troubling at a time when chronic diseases like diabetes and asthma are on the rise, and school personnel and administrators are left to serve as medical professionals too.

In a small, rural county west of Charlotte, one school nurse told N.C. Policy Watch that the Senate budget proposal would mean her district would be cut to just one nurse who would have to serve six schools that are each at least ten miles apart.

“Last year, I had a child in my school have a seizure and he stopped breathing. The staff didn’t know how to simply reposition his head to breathe again, which I did when I arrived on the scene. If I were ten miles away, the outcome of that situation would be devastating,” said the nurse, who doesn’t want to be identified.

Still not convinced it’s a big deal? Check out what happened in Philadelphia, where they are suffering from a huge lack of school nurses.

4. Textbooks

Gov. Pat McCrory heard State Superintendent June Atkinson’s pleas and decided to double the current textbook budget in his proposal, upping it from $23 million to $46 million for next year. Still a far cry from its 2009 funding level of $116 million, McCrory acknowledged that the state had a long way to go in its quest to transition from books to digital resources, and students shouldn’t suffer in the interim from a lack of learning materials.

The Senate felt differently, and didn’t put any more money at all into textbooks, leaving that line item stand at $23 million.

What’s it like when students in rural areas have no textbooks, limited access to computers at school, and spotty access to the Internet at home–if they even have computers in the first place? Check out this story about students in Franklin County, who have been doing without learning materials for some time.

5. Central Office Administrators

Senate lawmakers are keen to give teachers a raise, but some of those folks who work behind the scenes to ensure kids get a good education are left behind.

Funding would be cut by five percent for the salaries and benefits of superintendents, associate and assistant superintendents, finance officers, athletic trainers, and transportation directors (but not limited to those positions).

And even though teachers stand to get significant raises (remember, if they relinquish their tenure), school building central office staff like school guidance counselors, nurses, secretaries and other professionals would just get a $500 salary bump.

6. School Transportation

School transportation takes a $29 million hit in the Senate’s budget, which would come on top of cuts to school transportation budgets over the past several years.

Funds for school bus replacement would be cut by almost $3.5 million

Last year, lawmakers upped the mileage limit on school buses from 200,000 miles to 250,000 miles in a cost-saving maneuver.

More older buses are now on the roads, which means your kids don’t get to enjoy advanced safety features on newer buses. And the environment suffers too, from harmful emissions coming from older diesel engines.

Kids safety? Doesn’t seem to make the top ten for lawmakers.

7. Teaching Fellows

No big surprise here: last year, the General Assembly voted to discontinue funding for the highly praised Teaching Fellows program, which provides for a substantial teacher preparation program for North Carolinians who want to pursue a career in teaching and has excellent retention rates — three quarters of Teaching Fellows stay teaching in the state beyond five years.

This time around Senate lawmakers did not move to change course on that front — even though there has been a loud outcry over the move to defund the Teaching Fellows.

Instead, funds will be funneled to Teach for America, a national program often assailed for poorly preparing teachers who tend to stay in the classroom for a shorter amount of time.

8. Department of Public Instruction

DPI would take a 30 percent funding hit with the Senate budget. The department would have the discretion to implement cuts as they see fit, and Senator Tillman acknowledged that it could mean entire divisions within DPI would have to shutter — but he also said “As far as I can tell, they [DPI] don’t teach a single child.”  

There’s more to add to this list for sure — tell me what I missed in the comments below.

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Top eight education cuts in the Senate budget proposal