Democrat Beverly Perdue has become the first NC governor to veto a budget bill since the chief executive of our state was given that power in 1997.
Gov. Perdue said in her announcement Sunday that the Republican-led legislature’s $20 billion proposal would do “generational damage” to public education. She said the legislature has “turned its back on our schools, our children, our longstanding investment in education and our future economic prospects.”
The budget cuts passed by the legislature dramatically impact the very programs that have moved North Carolina to the forefront of our nation’s educational efforts:
• $124 million in “discretionary” reduction passed on to local school districts is on top of the $305 million in deductions for 2009-10.
• 20% cut to the “More at Four” preschool program for atrisk children.
• Elimination of professional development funding for teachers, including the end of such programs as the Teacher Academy and in Cullowhee the NC Center for the Advancement of Teaching.
• Elimination of the Teaching Fellows program which drew into the field of education some of our brightest young people.
• Elimination of funds for handheld diagnostic tools for teachers that allow them to track student learning.
In 1954, America was #1 in the world in elementary school enrollment, math and science, and college graduates. Today, we are 19th in science, 24th in math, 79th in elementary school enrollment, and 12th in the world in the number of college graduates.
It is not so much that we are falling behind as it is that others have begun to catch up or pass us. In South Korea, for instance, almost 100% of their people are literate. China is now producing four times more college graduates in science, engineering, technological fields and mathematics than we are. They, and countries such as Sweden, Norway and Germany, are placing extraordinary emphasis upon education, research and innovation.
When given these circumstances and the importance of education to meeting the challenges we face today in the world, it is inconceivable that our legislature would dramatically cut or eliminate educational programs and services.
It is time for not only educators, but the public at large, to rise up and voice their concerns over the direction our Republican- led legislature is taking in dissolving our longstanding investments in education and in diluting the impact we need to have in America’s economic future. It is time to quit being quiet!!
Ben J. Utley is chairman of the Macon County Democratic Party.