For Gov. Beverly Perdue, the equation is quite simple: any further education cuts are cuts that harm the classroom. The Governor remains firmly opposed to any budget proposal to increase class size, reduce teacher pay or layoff teachers. Earlier this week, she asked legislative leaders to pass $1.6 billion in new taxes including a 1 cent sales tax increase. The Governor said the new taxes are necessary to balance the budget and to “protect the public schools and the educational backbone of North Carolina.”
Nice political logic for a former teacher trying to shore up her base by playing to a core constituency. Such a move, however, falsely implies all cuts to public education are classroom cuts. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Over the past four years, state appropriations for areas outside the classroom and instructional support have increased 15 percent. About 38 percent of the Department of Public Instruction’s (DPI) $8.1 billion state budget is designated for areas outside the classroom and instructional support. Increasingly more and more money is spent outside the classroom.
North Carolina schools continue to add instructional support and administrative positions at rates that exceed enrollment growth. Since 2000, average daily membership (ADM) enrollment has increased 15 percent. Over the same time period, the number of instructional support personnel increased by 37 percent and administrator positions increased by 21 percent. North Carolina’s pupil to staff ratio (7:3) has been declining since 2003 and is lower (meaning more actual staff) than the national average (8:0).
Furthermore, it seems more and more public school personnel are being hidden in nebulous categories. For instance, from 2000 to2007, the number of “other professionals” increased 51 percent to over 5,400. This category includes consultants, social workers, speech therapists, attorneys and other noninstructional staff. If each of these workers were divided equally among North Carolina’s 115 school districts, each district would have 48 “other professionals.” Can North Carolina school districts afford these costs?
Protecting teacher jobs has become the Governor’s mantra. In the meantime, however, she continues to advocate for a budget riddled with waste. Millions could be saved by cutting questionable programs like literacy coaches ($6.1 million) or by reducing the budgets of non-profit entities like Public School Forum ($2.3 million), Communities in Schools ($1.6 million) or Schools Attuned ($820,000).
There is also a provision to provide $950,000 for Teach for America (TFA). TFA trains college graduates to serve as teachers in underserved areas. When the state is unable to hire state funded Teaching Fellows, does it make sense to fund TFA?
If the Governor is truly committed to saving jobs, wouldn’t she explore every avenue? Many employees in the private sector have been offered the option of accepting a pay reduction if it will help to save other jobs. Why shouldn’t teachers have this same option? An increase of two students per class in grades 4 through 12 will not only save the state approximately $184 million in 2009-10, but also result in a reduced need for several thousand teachers. The same jobs could be saved if teachers agree to reduce pay by approximately 3.6 percent. Interestingly, it seems like the unions will stand together to fight for pay raises in the good times (since 2000, teachers have averaged a 4.1 percent pay increase), but when the difficult times come, it’s everyone for themselves; so much for union solidarity.
Perdue and legislative leaders want close to $1 billion in new taxes to restore cuts to education and other state services. Since 2000, state government spending on K-12 education has increased 44 percent. What have we received?
While there have been some successes, the litany of problems is growing all too familiar. National Assessment of Educational Performance (NAEP) reading and math scores are flat or declining. Half of all African-American students perform at or below grade level in math and reading. Only 27 percent of public schools made “expected growth” targets under the state’s ABC testing program. Only 70 percent of North Carolina eighth graders graduate from high school in five years, the tenth lowest in the country.
Is this a system that needs more money or more accountability? While Perdue says she wants new taxes for education and to save teacher jobs, new taxes will only continue to fund the failed “business as usual” approach. More importantly, new taxes will produce additional economic hardship on North Carolina residents and further slow the economy.
The disappointing performance of our schools means we can no longer afford to sink money into the educational status quo. North Carolina needs a Governor who is less concerned with making her election-supporting unions happy and more concerned with reforming our schools, fostering accountability, improving student performance and ensuring our tax dollars are spent wisely. It may be a long and very expensive four years.
This article originally appeared in the Lincoln Tribune on 07/10/09