Sunday, August 9, 2015

Sunday Long Read: The War On NC Schools

Washington Post education writer Valerie Strauss posts this detailed carnage from a NC teacher that Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and the NC GOP legislature have inflicted on North Carolina public schools since the red state backlash against Obama in 2012.  It's heartbreaking and very personal to see this, as I grew up and attended both school and college in the state, only to see that education infrastructure being ripped to pieces.

Among their first targets: reductions in unemployment benefits, cuts to public schools, including laying off thousands of teachers, and a massive, nearly half-billion dollar slash from the University of North Carolina system.

Two years later, in the last budget cycle, 2014-15, the legislature providedroughly $500 million less for education than schools needed.

Later in the 2013 session, though, the most radical changes in state financing fell into place. Republicans reconstructed the state’s tax code, relieving the burden on corporations and wealthy residents. They continued to take aim at other parts of the education budget, cutting More at Four program dollars and decreasing accessibility for poor families. The state lost thousands more teacher and teacher assistant positions. The bloodletting was fierce. More on that in a minute.

Across the state, local education districts were faced with budget deficits of considerable proportion after legislators hacked away their funding. School systems raided fund balances, rainy day funds set aside for things like natural disasters, not political ones. Elsewhere, employees were furloughed, teachers were laid off, teacher assistants were forced to take other jobs or lose their classroom positions, and so forth. Non-personnel funding disappeared. Textbooks stayed in circulation another year. Buildings were patched together instead of replaced. Education Week called ours “The Most Backward Legislature in America.

Republicans defended these austerity measures by saying that lower taxes would eventually yield fiscal growth. And they were right. This year, the government is enjoying a $445 million surplus–a clear victory in light of those multi-billion dollar deficits of yore–but still a statistically small number in light of the state’s $21 billion budget (about two percent), especially after considering that our state budget is still smaller than it was in 2011.

In fact, by 2014-15, North Carolina was still spending $100 million less on public education than it had before the economic recession. And over the past ten years, public schools added more than 150,000 additional students. No Republican legislator can honestly say that per pupil expenditures across the state have increased in the last six years.

The budget fix came at a cost, a steep one.  NC teachers now are the lowest paid in the nation, veteran teachers have been forced to retire, Republicans have completely eliminated the state's Teaching Fellows program in the UNC system that trained new teachers, then created a voucher program to pay for-profit charter schools and religious schools with taxpayer dollars and leave the poorest schools in the state drowning in red ink.

And then they came for the college system I went to.

In four years Republicans have destroyed education in my home state.  It's a depressing read, necessary to drive home that there is a difference between the two parties.

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