BUDGET SITUATION PUTS SCHOOLS AT RISK OF LOSING GROUND; CUTS EQUATE TO STATE FUNDING FOR 39,100 STUDENTS
State Superintendent Mike Ward and State Board of Education Chairman Phil Kirk are growing increasingly alarmed by the state budget impasse and by proposals by some legislators to make additional cuts to public schools. The latest proposed cut is equivalent to cutting state funds for 39,100 students. They are urging legislators to find resources to fund the state's needs, including continuing school progress.
Ward and Kirk said the state's schools are leading the nation in progress and are on the way to leading in overall performance. They are concerned that the state's budget problems will halt the continuous improvement of our schools.
The state budget is so important to public schools because the state provides approximately 70 percent of all the funds for schools. A 3 percent budget cut to schools, as proposed this week, would be $177.6 million from the Public School Fund or the equivalent of state funds ($4,542 per child) for 39,100 students. To put these funds in perspective, this amount equals roughly 4,300 teachers or 9,600 teacher assistants or increasing class size by two students in every classroom in this state.
A 3 percent cut would mean a $1.2 million cut to the Department of Public Instruction, an agency that already has seen its staff cut in half. This cut would severely impact DPI's ability to assist local school systems in school improvement efforts.
Many schools across the state have already started for the year. Commitments have been made for employment contracts, instructional materials and equipment. These commitments leave superintendents with very little discretion to cut resources. In addition, local county commissioners have already approved school budgets for 2001-02. Ninety percent of state school funding is used for salaries of school employees.
State Superintendent Mike Ward said the proposal for additional cuts would be devastating to the state's efforts to recruit and retain quality teachers, improve student performance and ensure safe and orderly schools. He said, "Our citizens have made it clear that they want better schools. Legislators too have said that past low performance by North Carolina students was unacceptable. We took them seriously and have been continuously raising standards and improving schools. Money matters. If we reduce funds, it will hurt classrooms and cut at the heart of education progress."
Phil Kirk, chairman of the State Board and president of North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry, echoes Ward's views. "The State Board is determined to carry through on our commitment to make our public schools second to none. Talk of cutting schools is affecting morale at a time when we need teachers and others to go the extra mile to help children reach and exceed grade level. We can say goodbye to the national recognition we've been enjoying if funds are cut to schools."
Just two weeks ago, President George Bush, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, USA Today and other national and state leaders lauded North Carolina's public school progress. The praise for North Carolina came upon the release of the National Assessment of Educational Progress mathematics results for all states. North Carolina's fourth and eighth graders topped the national and Southeast average scores on NAEP, the Nation's Report Card.
The Legislature already has agreed to cut millions from the Public School Fund ($45 million in the House budget and $31 million in the Senate budget) and $2.8 or $3.8 million from the Department of Public Instruction.
To talk to State Superintendent Ward or Board Chairman Kirk about the budget, please call DPI Communications at 919.807.3450.
About the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction:
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction provides leadership to 115 local public school districts and 126 charter schools serving over 1.5 million students in kindergarten through high school graduation. The agency is responsible for all aspects of the state's public school system and works under the direction of the North Carolina State Board of Education.
For more information:
NCDPI Communication and Information Division, 919.807.3450.