This could take us back a generation, it could take another generation to come back and I don’t think that’s what the people of North Carolina want.
Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt commenting on what he sees as the impact of the proposed state budget for public education.
There is no shortage of exaggeration and hyperbole from those commenting on the impacts of the proposed state budget on public schools. In addition to having to address a $2 billion budget deficit, reductions are necessary to adjust to a slowing economy and unsustainably high levels of spending as well as the failure of legislative leadership to make hard choices. While the budget includes year-over-year reductions, if you listen to some critics you’d think the public schools won’t be opening next year. In addition to fully funding teachers for next year, a few facts can help to provide perspective on budget proposals under discussion.
Budget Comparisons. While no one knows what the final budget will be, an average of the adopted House and Senate budget targets for K-12 education is $7.17 billion. This figure falls almost exactly halfway between the K-12 budget for the years 2006-07 and 2007-08. The new figure reflects only a 4 percent reduction from what was appropriated for public schools in 2010-2011.
If you combine state, federal and local spending, North Carolina public schools spent a total of $11.57 billion in 2010-11. The proposed House-Senate budget estimate represents a spending reduction of $307 million less than last year’s total appropriations, thus a reduction of total spending of approximately 2.6 percent.
Hardly the draconian cuts you hear mentioned.
Spending Reductions. Over the past two years North Carolina has received about $1.1 billion in one-time federal money to backfill spending programs and to fund education jobs. While those funds might have helped to sustain current employment and programs, the funds were meant as a temporary solution. Lawmakers were more than happy to accept “free” federal money. However, it also gave lawmakers the chance to put off difficult budget decisions. State budget writers were well aware that the federal funds would dry up this year, but instead of addressing serious budget questions, lawmakers did nothing. Such inaction made the current reductions both necessary and larger than they otherwise needed to be.
Lay Offs. Many of the proposed layoffs are of hires made in the last two years whose jobs likely would have been eliminated sooner without stimulus funding. Since 2008-09, the federal government hired more than 13,500 new employees to work in the public schools, including 5,700 teachers.
Teacher Layoffs: The Only Option? A review of personnel counts over the past three years reveals the number of full-time teachers has declined from 99,098 to 94, 879 (there are about 5,000 part-time teachers in North Carolina). The total number of instructional support staff, however, has remained virtually unchanged, declining slightly from 14,550 (2008-09) to 14,465 (2010-11). Furthermore, even though there was a 9 percent decline in the total number of non-certified staff, the total number still exceeds 64,100. Non-Certified staff includes teacher’s assistants, technicians, clerical and secretarial staff, and other occupations that don’t require licensure or certification by a board. The number of non-certified staff has increased 67 percent in the last 10 years. These numbers suggest teacher layoffs are far from the only option available to those who need to trim budgets.
Changes in Per Student State Support. Average state support per student in fiscal year 2010-11 is $5,072. If House and Senate proposals are averaged, state support per student for fiscal year 2011-12 is $4,845. This represents a decline of 4 percent. However it is less than last year’s 5 percent decline in support per student. In 2006-07, state support was $4,684 per student.
Notes: 2011-12 data estimated from average of House adopted budget and Senate budget targets. Other figures available from Senate Education Committee on Education /Higher Education Target Comparisons handout. Prepared by Fiscal Research Division, May 11, 2011.