NC schools continue slow decline
As North Carolina lawmakers continue to make cuts in the education budget teachers, children, and communities across the state suffer. As a result of a decrease in funding, some schools can no longer offer elective or foreign language courses, and only have a nurse on staff one or two days a week. In some places, children can no longer take textbooks home to study, and teachers often have to spend hundreds of dollars of their own money to purchase necessary supplies for the classroom. Remediation programs, a proven method of aiding underachieving students or those with learning disabilities, have had to be abandoned, these efforts being left in the hands of teachers who are willing to stay after hours to tutor students. As put by Keith Poston, the NC Public School Forum's executive director, "It seems like... taking a step back."
Read more at NC Policy Watch
Funding for education absorbed a sharp cut when North Carolina and other states scrambled to balance budgets in response to the 2008 recession. Between 2008 and 2010, the economic collapse resulted in a drop of $1.2 billion in state tax revenue, forcing the then-Democratic leadership to cut nearly every line item of the state budget.
Public education, a sector that accounts for about half of the state’s spending plan (higher education included) was not spared. Between fiscal 2008, the peak year of spending for K–12 education, and fiscal 2011, total state funding for public schools was cut by about $1.04 billion when adjusted for inflation, according to the N.C. Budget & Tax Center.
Overall spending on public education is rising modestly year to year, but not in a way that keeps pace with growing enrollment. For the 2015–16 school year, nearly 76,000 more students are attending public schools than in 2008.
“If you back out the funding added for benefit-cost increases and salary adjustments, the funding available for classroom activities (textbooks, transportation, teacher assistants, teachers, etc.) has been reduced by over $1 billion,” since 2008–09.
In the 2013–15 biennial budget, the legislature’s allocation for public schools was more than $100 million below what the state budget office recommended as necessary to maintain the status quo and more than $500 million less (adjusted for inflation) than what was spent on public education in 2008.
And the new budget for 2015–17 continues that trend with investments that remain well below 2008 pre-recession levels, spending roughly $500 less per student. In 2014, North Carolina ranked 47th in the nation in per-student spending.
Staffing isn’t the only dwindling resource in the classroom — so are classroom supplies. Carter and other teachers dip into their own pockets to buy supplies and to meet emergency student needs. Carter said she typically spends $500 to $600 a year. Compared with 2008, the state has reduced the public schools’ classroom supplies budget by 52 percent.
Beaufort County is mostly rural with a large number of poor residents. At Tayloe, 77 percent of the students qualify for subsidized lunches.
Every teacher at her school, Carter speculates, has bought clothing for students at one time or another or taken a child to get cleaned up and fed so they can learn. It’s a combination of teachers’ own money, whatever support the PTA can lend and church donations that foots the bill.
Perhaps recognizing that their budget cuts have made it impossible to have the necessary resources on hand, in 2011 lawmakers enacted a tax credit for teachers who purchased classroom supplies out of their own pockets. They eliminated that credit in 2013, only to reinstate it this year.
But since then, the legislature has largely left that large hole in place. There were some modest year-to-year increases to the textbook budget, and lawmakers have budgeted a significant increase for the next two years. But the total is still less than half of what it was in 2010, which leaves some classrooms with outdated textbooks or none at all. Many teachers rely on handouts — and often have to pay the copying costs themselves.
In just five years, Bunn’s performance composite, which is based on end-of-grade test scores, increased from the low 60th percentile up to the 81st percentile.
But the school’s remediation program was slowly whittled down by budget cuts, then eliminated altogether. Students who need extra help now must rely on the good will of teachers who are not compensated for any extra time they can devote to students.