The School Facts Should Get in the Way
The new Republican majorities in Raleigh are in for a surprise next session if they are willing to allow facts and actual data rather than only ideology to inform their budget decisions as they consider how to address an anticipated 3.5 billion shortfall — especially when it comes to education.
The combined funding of public schools, community colleges and the university system accounts for roughly 60 percent of the state budget. That means any budget that does not include any new revenue must make major cuts to all three levels of the education system.
That means increasing class sizes, firing teachers, reducing the number of classes offered, turning students away from community colleges and universities, and more than likely closing some public schools — which has already started happening in Charlotte.
The folks on the right don’t want to admit that. They claim that they only want to cut administration and nonteaching positions and will protect the classroom. It simply cannot be done.
The Department of Public Instruction has been cut significantly in the last few years and many of the positions left are required by federal law to monitor the education funding receives from Washington.
There are not many administrators left. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that North Carolina ranks 49th in the nation in state and local spending on public school central office administration.
The census also shows the state ranks 38th in spending on administration within schools, lower than every neighboring state except Tennessee.
Cutting any deeper means the state will struggle to manage and monitor the billions that are spent in the classroom and on the support personnel that make it possible for teachers to do their jobs. Republicans preach accountability and strict financial oversight. That is tough to do if there is no one to do the overseeing.
Then there is the recent series of reports showing that North Carolina’s overall education funding is woefully inadequate and well below most other states. Studies from the N.C Justice Center and the Public School Forum have documented that the state ranks 45th in the nation in per pupil expenditures and 43rd in per pupil spending as a share of personal income.
The Forum points out that the state could easily fall to 50th if the cuts being considered by the Perdue administration are made. It’s hard to believe the majority of people in North Carolina want their public schools to be the worst-funded in the country.
A report from the Education Law Center released last month evaluated how all 50 states finance public schools based on four factors, overall level of funding, how the funds are distributed, funding as a percentage of the state's economic activity, and the proportion of students attending public schools.
North Carolina was one of only four states who ranked below average on all four indicators. That included a grade of F on the ratio of school funding to per capita gross state product.
The numbers and data are clear. North Carolina schools are vastly underfunded in comparison with other states and the state already spends less on administrative personnel than most of its neighbors.
That ought to give the new budget writers pause no matter what they said during the campaign. That is if they let the facts get in the way.
Chris Fitzsimon is executive director of N.C. Policy Watch. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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