School Budget: A Political Document
The budget writers for the state House appeared to do the impossible. Or did they?
Somehow they whacked $1.2 billion out of the public education budget in North Carolina — a cut of 10.5 percent from projected spending — and managed to avoid eliminating a single public school teaching job.
At least, that’s what their budget documents show.
When you dig down a little, you see that roughly half their budget-cutting to K-12 schools, or $347 million, comes in the form of a discretionary cut to local school systems. It falls to local school officials to do much of the dirty work, to figure out who or what to get rid of.
The House Republicans responsible for the proposed budget didn’t invent this trick. “Negative reserves” and “discretionary cuts” have been used by their Democratic predecessors before. Gov. Beverly Perdue, in her budget plan, also pushes down some of the budget-cutting pain and decision-making on the locals.
And for better than a decade, legislative Democrats have been moving closer to giving public university officials what amounts to a block grant, letting them parse out on their own who gets what when it comes to operational spending.
It should comes as no surprise that House budget writers have handed over to University of North Carolina officials a $469 million “management flexibility cut.” OK, UNC managers, get flexible now. Take out your scissors. Work out that 15.5 percent cut.
Particularly illogical is that the budget proposal continues providing money for universities to add to their enrollments. Does it make sense to grow while you’re chopping course offerings and firing instructors?
As for the public schools, it seems unlikely that local school officials will be able to find that $347 million in savings without cutting teaching jobs and raising class sizes at the middle and high school levels.
The reason is that both the House plan and Perdue’s proposed budget cut the local school systems in so many other ways. Non-instructional personnel — including librarians and guidance counselors — are cut by about 15 percent. Transportation and technology spending get hit hard too. About 8 percent of administrative positions, at schools and in local central offices, would be eliminated.
House budget writers would also get rid of teaching assistants in the second and third grades, saving $254 million, and mostly wipe out money for new textbooks.
The point is that the folks running the local school systems will have few options meeting that discretionary cut figure.
At the local level, and in the state budget, the money is in the teaching position. Sixty percent of the state budget goes to public education. Most of it ends up in paychecks of teachers.
House budget writers have turned in a fine political performance, one-upping Perdue by also producing a budget document where not a single teaching job is lined out on a page. It doesn’t mean that none will be lined in the place where it counts — in the classroom.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at email@example.com.
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