Senate budget proposal shuffles education money, leaves cuts
Compromise or charade? Depending on one’s political proclivities, and whether or not one is involved in public education in the state, a revised budget in the Republican-controlled North Carolina Senate is one or the other.
While the budget makes some changes to specific cuts which were proposed for public education last month in the House, Democratic Governor Beverly Perdue has called the new proposal a “charade” and is sticking to her promise to veto any budget bill that does not protect education jobs and funding in the state.
“If they pass a budget that undermines our schools and fails to protect the quality of our education system, then I will have no choice but to veto it,” said Perdue in a statement last week after the Senate Appropriations Committee released its budget bill.
According to Katherine Joyce, Assistant Executive Director of the N.C. Association of School Administrators, the revised budget plan increases total education spending by $250 million. “While on the surface this increase sounds positive, the end result will mean even deeper cuts to local schools as tough personnel decisions are passed on to school leaders,” wrote Joyce in a letter to members sent out this week.
The revised budget plan restores $390 million in funding for teacher assistants but then directs local districts to find $124 million in spending reductions beyond the $305 million in discretionary cuts that have been leveled in the past two years while adding several unfunded mandates.
The plan also includes $10 million in cuts to transportation for the coming year as well as the cut of $20 million to the school bus replacement fund for 2012-2013 which was included in the House proposal. The plan retains the proposed $17 million cut to central offices, which includes reductions to assistant principals, and also proposes a $42 million reduction to the instructional supplies budget.
Meanwhile, the plan increases the school year to 185 instructional days (from 180) and reduces K-3 class sizes.
“While we’re facing these budget cuts, I have a hard time seeing the logic behind this proposal,” commented Macon County schools superintendent, Dr. Dan Brigman. Brigman noted that reducing class sizes requires more classrooms and teachers, a mandate that will simply be impossible as the state is already looking at the prospect of losing 20,350 public school personnel, including more than 2,100 teachers.
The Senate’s revised proposal simply places the burden of cuts on local districts while “moving money from one hand to the next,” said Brigman.
“These are serious reductions and will definitely have a negative impact on children in various programs and funding categories,” said Brigman. He added that while no program is immune, certain early-childhood education programs, are being targeted in particular. More at Four, a pre-kindergarten for disadvantaged four-year-olds in North Carolina, which has demonstrated strong results for participants, is one such program.
Still, Brigman acknowledges that Macon County is in a better situation than many, due in part to a hiring freeze in the county that has been in effect since November 2009 for all positions except critical personnel and teaching staff.
“Through attrition, we have been cutting positions since November 2009, so that has allowed us to preserve funds in preparation of July 1 this year,” Brigman explained. “In terms of the budget outcome, I am confident that we are in a more favorable position this year [than many other counties]. But next year will be another story.”
Many critics believe that the current budget proposal would have long-term impacts on education in the state, dropping it to near the bottom in per student spending in the country. On top of other revenue shortfalls, a temporary tax of one quarter of one cent will all but certainly be allowed to expire on June 30.
“This state was built on providing a quality education for all North Carolinians,” said Perdue, who has long promoted education as part of her economic recovery strategy. “Let me be clear: it’s a core part of who we are and what we value as a people.”