The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction recently released a report detailing the impacts of state budget cuts on public schools since the 2008-09 school year. The report conveys an eye opening message about the health of public education in North Carolina. According to the report, North Carolina’s public school system has lost over 16,000 positions and laid off over 6,000 employees since the 2008-09 school year; accruing to an 8 percent total reduction in the workforce.
Even more alarming is that 68 percent of the positions lost were teacher and assistant teacher positions. The reductions come at a time when student enrollment in North Carolina’s public school system continues to increase, forcing teachers to educate more students and take on more responsibilities with decreasing resources. The NC-DPI report stated that this is the first time since the Great Depression that North Carolina has slashed teacher positions during a time of student growth.
Another report from the NC-DPI, released last February, shows that since 2006-2007 the number of students attending public schools in North Carolina has increased by 40,000. Yet state funding towards public education has remained relatively stagnant during the same time period, and public school districts statewide have suffered through significant reductions in state appropriations over the past two years.
“When you look at these numbers, it is striking to think of the impact for students. There are fewer adults in schools, more students in each class in all grades, and fewer staff to help students who may struggle or need help with learning,” said State Superintendent June Atkinson in response to the NC-DPI report. “We are not keeping our state’s commitment to students when you look at staffing levels in North Carolina public schools.”
State education leaders believe more cuts are imminent in 2012, as $400 million in federal “EduJobs” are set to expire. The “Edu- Jobs” monies are used by local school districts to fund teacher and instructional support positions. More than 4,000 positions are being supported by these funds in the 2011-12 school year, according to the NC-DPI.
Some public school districts have been able to prevent layoffs by utilizing attrition measures. “The Macon County School system has been able to handle the state budget shortfall thus far through attrition and the retirement of certified and classified personnel,” said Dan Moore, director of personnel at Macon County Schools. “At this point in time we feel very fortunate to be able to say that no one has been laid off.” Macon County Schools have lost 21 positions since the 2008-09 school year, 18 of those being teacher and assistant teacher positions.
Jackson County Public Schools have had to endure much deeper cuts in comparison, losing 125 positions since the 2008-09 school year, including 117 teacher and assistant teacher positions. Jackson County school administrators have managed to avoid layoffs as well, opting to use other attrition measures instead.
“For the past several years, JCPS has worked tirelessly to minimize the impact of budget cuts on students and families,” said Dr. Michael Murray, superintendent of Jackson County Public Schools. “Having said that, there have been challenges as a result of the cuts. Not being able to fill vacant positions puts each of us in the position of having to do more with less. We have fewer funds to provide adequate staff development, there are no resources for textbooks, and local funds often cover mandated reversions. In spite of this, we will continue to protect the integrity of the classroom; but as cuts become deeper, we feel certain they will be felt throughout the System.”
The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act temporarily eased state budget pressures, as federal funds to North Carolina’s public schools increased from 7 percent in fiscal year 2004 to 12 percent in fiscal year 2010; amounting to an $860 million increase in federal funds for education. However, federal stimulus dollars are gone and public school districts statewide are still struggling to maintain high standards amidst declining federal and state funds.
State budget cuts to public education have become routine over the past several years due to the recession’s impact on state revenues, which in turn has spurred intense partisan debates among state policymakers over how to remedy the problem. The most recent budget debate was primarily over extending the temporary one cent sales tax from 2009 to help close the budget shortfall and prevent additional education cuts, which Governor Perdue supported and the GOP controlled legislature opposed.
In June, with the support of five House Democrats, Republican lawmakers won the debate after overriding Governor Perdue’s budget veto. The GOP budget that is now the law spends about $37 million less on K-12 education than Governor Perdue’s proposed budget.
Republican legislators maintain that the state’s budget was bloated, and that the policy changes enacted in June were long overdue. GOP lawmakers campaigned hard against extending the temporary one cent sales tax increase during the 2010 election cycle, believing it would lead to more job losses and anemic economic growth, and viewed their historic victory as a mandate to make sweeping reforms in state spending. Democratic legislators counter by claiming that the cuts are already causing teacher job losses, and argue that the GOP cuts put North Carolina next to last in the nation in states’ per pupil spending on education. Democratic legislators believe the cuts will have a lasting negative effect on the future of North Carolina’s workforce.