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Opinion Tell the truth about education cuts

Legislative leaders and the folks at the think tanks on the Right are getting very nervous these days as the truth about the education budget passed by the General Assembly this year is spreading across North Carolina.

And it’s not just folks generally opposed to the agenda of the Republican majorities who are upset about the cuts to classrooms and the slaps at teachers from state lawmakers this session.

Many Republican voters are angry too, every time they read that thousands of teacher assistants are being fired and that hundreds more will spend fewer hours this year helping second graders read or understand a math problem.

Parents are angry that their son’s or daughter’s classrooms will have more students in them and that their child may have to share a textbook because there aren’t enough to go around, or ride in a school bus with 240,000 miles on it because lawmakers slashed funding for buses.

They can’t understand why bright young students seeking advanced degrees in their subject area so they will be better teachers will be denied a salary supplement that teachers before them have received for their advanced degrees.

And maybe most of all, they simply don’t understand why politicians would slash education funding to the point that the state now ranks at close to the very bottom of states in per-pupil spending and teacher pay.

The right-wing spin machine is in overdrive to explain it all away. There are overheated columns by a Republican Senator calling critics of the budget liars and demeaning teachers and education professionals by calling them “educrats.”

There are rushed talk show appearances by right-wing pundits to mislead listeners after parent after parent calls to express their frustration with the cuts to the classroom.

And there is a long, disjointed and meandering diatribe on the cookiecutter websites of many Republican lawmakers that grossly distorts the budget numbers and blames everybody else for the education budget and the neglect of teachers—local governments, past legislatures, even teachers themselves.

The rant claims that even though it takes a teacher in North Carolina 15 years to earn a $40,000 salary, they shouldn’t really complain because they also get health insurance and “only work ten months a year.”

The Republicans can’t help themselves. They blame and disrespect teachers and other education professionals even when they are trying to claim they support them.

There is a blizzard of numbers in all the spin, but here are a few easy ones to understand. The Office of State Budget and Management, headed by Art Pope, told the General Assembly that it would cost $7.98 billion to keep education services at the same level as last year.

The final budget spent $7.86 billion. That is reduction of $120 million at a time when enrollment is increasing.

If lawmakers wanted to keep education funding at the same level as 2007-2008 adjusted for inflation, this year’s budget would need to be $8.4 billion. That means funding for public schools is over $500 million less than it was six years ago.

State lawmakers slashed funding for key education programs and they neglected teachers. Those are simply the facts.

That’s why school districts across the state are cutting teacher positions, laying off teacher assistants, and slashing funding for instructional supplies.

Expect more vitriol in the coming months, more name-calling and nasty remarks about “educrats” and plenty more manipulation of the numbers by lawmakers and conservative think tanks alike.

But here is the truth. The budget passed this year by the General Assembly hurts public schools and the students who attend them.

Don’t listen to the right-wing propaganda mills and don’t take my word for it either.

Ask your local school board member or superintendent. Better still, ask your daughter’s teacher or the principal at her school.


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