Editorial: Legislature preparing to shortchange public education yet again

Be sure to check out this morning’s Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com. In it, the authors take aim at the new state budget proposal that state lawmakers plan to unveil today for the way it will, once again, shortchange the most important function of state government: public education.

Here are some excerpts:

A House appropriations subcommittee unveils details today of a skimpy education budget. It offers up less than a 1-percent boost next year for North Carolina’s public schools, community colleges and universities.

This is a phantom hike in the current $13.84 billion education budget, significantly less than the $14.56 billion Gov. Roy Cooper presented in his modest – and largely ignored – spending proposal last month.

The constitutional requirement for access to quality education – a “right” in our state – is not being met and it is the General Assembly’s failure. Per-student spending ranks among the lowest in the South and the nation. Teacher pay, when adjusted for inflation, is less today than it was in 2009.

While the legislature scrimps its constitutional duties, it finds plenty of money to spend on unnecessary tax breaks for corporations. The latest is a proposed $140 million annual cut in the franchise tax. That’s on top of $2.5 billion in corporate tax cutting that has already been enacted over the last five years. All that comes at a cost of meeting the VERY BASIC needs of North Carolinians.

Meanwhile, the editorial notes, legislative leaders demean our teachers by attacking them as “far left” for having the temerity to come to Raleigh next Wednesday in protest of the state’s destructive policy regime.

The editorial goes on to point out that teachers are not coming to Raleigh for themselves nearly as much as they are for their children and other overworked, understaffed, underpaid professionals in the K-12 system. Here’s the on-the-money conclusion:

These teachers want their students healthy – physically and mentally. A legislative report found that the state failed to meet its own target of one nurse for every 750 students. Today it’s one nurse for every 1,086 students. Some school districts have a single nurse serving six schools at a time. More than a quarter of the state’s middle and high schools lack a full-time nurse. Providing $45 million to staff up for school nurses isn’t an extravagance.

There are 740 school psychologists serving North Carolina’s 1.6 million public school children – a single psychologist for every 2,162 students. Mental health concerns are real, affect learning, personal safety as well as security issues for schools.

Teachers are also seeking pay raises – but not for themselves. They want increases– to at least $15 an hour – in pay for non-teaching or administrative school staff. These workers were left out of the $15-per-hour minimum that other state workers received last year. It is time to get them caught up.

They are also pressing for the expansion of Medicaid – so all students and their parents will have access to adequate health care and learning isn’t interrupted by untreated illness.

It’s hard to understand why anyone would want to legislature if building a great public education system wasn’t their primary responsibility.

The teachers should keep marching. Legislators, one way or the other, will get the message.

2020 can’t come soon enough.

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