Commentary

House budget targets for education expose legislature’s backwards priorities

Ten years of austerity budgets have left North Carolina’s education system – public schools, community colleges, and university system – with incredible needs.

Compared to before the Recession, the state is providing public schools with fewer teachers, instructional support personnel (nurses, librarians, counselors, psychologists, etc.), teacher assistants, textbooks, and supplies.

The North Carolina Community College System is burdened with a $53 million “management flexibility” cut each year, and faces substantial workforce development needs. Several campuses are facing budgetary shortfalls due to Hurricane Florence.

In the UNC System, state funding per full-time student has been slashed about 20 percent.

Given the laundry list of needs facing North Carolina’s education system, how excited would you get about a budget that would increase real education funding by 0.3 percent? Because that’s how much House Budget writers have committed to addressing the state’s non-salary education needs for next year.

On Tuesday, budget writers from the House Appropriations Committee on Education revealed that they will have just $45.0 million to spend in FY 19-20 and $63.6 million in FY 20-21.

It is important to note that the above does not include salary increases, which will be added on top of the proposed spending targets. However, if you look at the laundry list of needs above, they all list non-salary shortfalls.

While our educators need competitive pay, they also need more resources. Children need books, supplies, teacher assistants, instructional support personnel (nurses, counselors, psychologists, librarians, and social workers), assistant principals, and teachers. Just restoring these areas to pre-Recession levels would cost $593 million. Doing something moderately ambitious like funding school support staff at industry-recommended levels requires an additional $600 million.

What the minuscule House budget targets make clear is that General Assembly leadership has no interest in creating a world-class education system in North Carolina. They have instead committed themselves to keeping taxes low for corporations and wealthy North Carolinians.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

For example, a 5 percent corporate income tax rate[1] would generate $604 million – or more than enough to restore funding for textbooks, supplies, teacher assistants, instructional support personnel, assistant principals, and teachers.

A millionaire’s tax would generate an additional $362 million.

Reinstating the state-level estate tax would generate at least $70 million per year.

In other words, there are easy way to pay for the things our education system needs…if you actually want to pay for things that the education system needs.

But these minuscule House budget targets show that the General Assembly clearly has other priorities.

[1] For point of reference, the corporate income tax rate is now 2.5 percent, down from 6.9 percent in 2013

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