Invest in the Future, Fund Schools First
December 2, 2010
The Department of Public Instruction recently submitted to the Office of State Budget Management a set of proposed five and 10 percent budget cuts to North Carolina public schools. In preparing these cuts, we were asked to identify for elimination nonessential programs or those that may fall outside of our agency's core mission. This was simply not possible. Our mission is to graduate every student prepared for college, a career and a successful future. Every program and school we fund supports this goal. So, while the NCDPI submitted draft budget reductions as required, these numbers do not represent our "recommendations." In fact, making these proposed cuts would be the wrong decision for our schools, our students and our future.
As we prepare for the new legislative session, here are some facts about public school funding all policymakers, parents, educators and other school leaders should consider:
- Five and 10 percent reductions are just the tip of the iceberg of the
financial problems facing schools next year. The 2010-11 state budget already
includes a four percent "discretionary reduction" which represents $304
million local school superintendents will receive and then must return to
the state. This discretionary cut turns the latest proposed five and 10
percent reductions into 9 and 14 percent cuts that represent $701 million
and $1.1 billion hits for public schools. When you consider that cuts of
this magnitude are on top of a 15 percent reduction schools took last year,
the situation becomes even more dismal.
So what would cuts of this magnitude really mean? Amounts of a million
and a billion dollars are large numbers that are often difficult to put
into perspective. A million dollars, for example, is equal to salary and
benefits for about 18 teachers, while a billion dollar cut could put 18,000
educators out of work. With 60 percent of every state dollar spent related
to teacher positions and salaries, it is impossible to make significant
cuts without losing jobs.
- Many suggest cutting the "education administration bureaucracy" to save
money and teacher jobs. This is not a good solution for many reasons. For
example, if legislators eliminate DPI, every school district's central office,
and principals and assistant principals, we would only be saving about $436
million. And with these services gone, schools would have to spend additional
money and teachers would take on additional responsibilities to provide
federally-mandated services to exceptional children, to collect federally-required
data, to develop curriculum, to train bus drivers, to license teachers and
to handle all of the other programs that we currently save schools billions
of dollars by managing at the state or district levels.
- Some have suggested closing schools to address the budget gap. We could close 165 schools, or every school in Wake County plus 10 more, and still not save a billion dollars. With a shortage of open schools, we would also be violating our students' constitutional right to a free education.
North Carolina currently ranks near the very bottom in the nation in the amount of money spent per public school student. After the last round of budget cuts, larger class sizes, fewer course selections, school buildings in need of repair, and other limited resources have become the norm in schools across our state. History has shown that leaders who have the courage to protect education, even in the most difficult financial times, are rewarded. Investments in public education produce a skilled workforce that will bring in jobs and investment and lead a state to economic recovery following a recession. Our leaders have made this wise decision in the past and as a result, our schools and students have made progress. We cannot afford to lose ground now. To invest in the future, we must fund schools first.
June St. Clair Atkinson