Commentary

House education budget falls short of needs, misleads on pay increases

It’s a story that North Carolinians have heard all too often this past decade. Despite a steadily growing economy, the General Assembly – in this case, the House – has once again failed to meaningfully address budget shortfalls in our public schools. The only new wrinkle presented by this week’s passage of the 2019 House education budget is a bizarre new attempt to mislead the public on educator pay increases.

First, let’s talk about the headline numbers. House leaders have increased the budget for public schools by 3.8 percent in FY 19-20 and 8.2 percent in FY 20-21 above base levels. This compares to proposed annual increases of 5.9 percent and 8.7, respectively, in the Governor’s budget. The House budget levels would leave total per-student state funding 2 percent below pre-Recession levels on an inflation-adjusted basis.

Very little of the additional House funding will expand resources for our public schools. As has been common over the past five years, most of the additional new funding is directed towards salary and benefit increases for teachers, instructional support personnel, assistant principals, and principals. These pay increases should be thought of as simply covering the cost of inflation, or as recoupment for the four years this decade when salaries were frozen. To date, the past five years of salary increases haven’t translated to notably improved retention, nor have they reversed the trend of plummeting enrollments in our schools of education.

Similarly, the budget’s technical adjustments provide additional funding to account for inflation and changes in student enrollment (until 2014, such changes weren’t even considered as expansion funding).

That leaves just $42 million in FY 19-20 and $62 million in FY 20-21 that will actually be distributed to school districts via the State Public School Fund to expand services for students. That represents a 0.4% increase in school resources in FY 19-20, and a 0.6% increase in FY 20-21. Read more

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

Commentary

Trump education budget lays bare his party’s antipathy towards public schools

President Donald Trump issued his budget proposal earlier this month continuing the trend in divestment in universal public education. If enacted, Trump’s budget would slash federal education spending by 12 percent, eliminating funding for 29 education programs. A full list of the programs slated for elimination (as first reported by Education Week) can be found below:

Read more

Commentary, Education

Governor’s budget shows schools’ desperate need for more revenue

On May 16, more than 20,000 educators and public school advocates marched on Raleigh to demand better funding for North Carolina’s public schools.

Speaking at the event, Governor Cooper captured the protesters’ sentiments, saying “This is far more than just about teacher pay…it’s about real investment in our schools.”

The Governor specified which investments he found most important:

“We have to invest in textbooks. We have to invest in digital learning. We have to improve the physical condition of our schools. We have to hire more nurses. We have to hire more counselors. We have to hire more teacher assistants.  We have to hire more school resource officers. We have to expand the Teaching Fellows program. And we need to give you help for school supplies because we know you are reaching into your own pockets and paying for them, and that’s not right.”

He proposed paying for these investments last year by delaying then-planned tax cuts for corporations and North Carolinians earning more than $200,000 per year.

Ultimately, the General Assembly chose a different route, moving forward with tax cuts in 2019 that are now draining more than $900 million per year from state coffers. When added to prior rounds of tax cuts since 2013, North Carolina’s coffers are now missing $3.6 billion a year. These tax cuts are making it impossible for state leaders’ to make the school investments called on by Cooper and the May 16th marchers.

One needs to look no further than Governor Cooper’s 2019 budget proposal to see how North Carolina’s dedication to low taxes for corporations and wealthy North Carolinians prevents investment of the likes called upon at the May 16th protest. It hardly makes a dent in giving teachers the tools they need to be successful. Cooper’s proposed investments in textbooks, supplies, and support staff – while admirable – would still leave funding well below where it needs to be. Read more

Commentary, Education

Teacher protests helped, but North Carolina still has ways to go to restore school funding

On May 16, over 20,000 teachers descended upon Raleigh to encourage legislative leaders to increase funding for North Carolina’s public schools. The impressive labor action – which shut down 40 school districts across the state – came on the heels of teacher-led protests in other states such as West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona.

According to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), these protests helped: in four of the five states with large-scale teacher protests, including North Carolina, legislators responded by increasing school funding. According to the report, per-student, inflation-adjusted state funding rose 3 percent in North Carolina.

While educators and other public school advocates deserve praise for pressuring legislators to increase school funding last year, North Carolina’s school budgets have a long way to go to make up for prior-year budget cuts.

Analysis of state budget documents shows that per-student state funding for public schools remains 5.4 percent below pre-Recession levels when adjusted for inflation. However, that number understates the actual budget pressures facing our schools. Recent-year funding increases have targeted teacher pay raises and covering rising retirement and health care costs. While such investments are important, they don’t ensure that North Carolina students have every tool they need for educational success.

North Carolina funds its schools via specific funding allotments. Dollar allotments provide districts a fixed pot of funds for certain activities. Position allotments provide districts with a given number of positions, with the state taking responsibility for paying the appropriate salary for the given position.

Of the 20 largest dollar allotments in FY 2008-09, 15 remain below their pre-Recession levels.

The General Assembly has massively slashed funding for supplies and materials (down 55 percent), textbooks (down 40 percent), central office staff (down 39 percent), and teacher assistants (down 35 percent). Funding for professional development and mentor programs for beginning teachers have been eliminated entirely.

The story is no better for the state’s position allotments. Of the four position allotments that existed in FY 2008-09, three remain below their pre-Recession levels.

Compared to before the Recession, the state is providing schools with fewer teachers, instructional support personnel (nurses, librarians, counselors, psychologists, etc.), and school building administrators (principals and assistant principals).

According to the CBPP report, North Carolina is among the minority of states that still finds its school funding below pre-Recession levels. And the report notes that North Carolina sits alongside Arizona and Oklahoma for using deep school funding cuts to pay for corporate and personal income tax cuts that have mostly benefited the wealthy. As a result, North Carolina faces a budget shortfall of $1.2 billion in 2020, increasing to $1.4 billion in 2022.

We’re already seeing the negative impact austerity budgets are having on North Carolina’s public schools. Other states are increasingly passing us by, and students of color and those from families with low incomes are increasingly paying the price. An alternative path – one which adequately funds our public schools – can improve educational outcomes for students and boost long-term growth. The report highlights that investments in public schools have tremendous long-term impacts, particularly for children from families with low incomes.