The annual, avoidable school budget mess
While students and parents may be looking forward to getting back to school in a few weeks, administrators and teachers are grappling with the indecision of NC lawmakers, trying to figure how much money they can use or if they'll even have a job waiting for them when they get back. The House and Senate are still at odds, trying to fix a budget. Meanwhile, school begins in 24 days.
Most every year, school districts wait until at least mid summer for the N.C. House and Senate to hash out how much of the state budget will go toward K-12 education – and how that money will be applied. The state accounts for the biggest share of funding for schools, which by necessity started their planning months ago.
“The government that requires us to guess what they’re going to do doesn’t make their decision until after we’ve made our guesses,” CMS board member Eric Davis told the editorial board this week. “It’s very dysfunctional.”
It also has a tangible impact on N.C. classrooms. Because districts don’t know how much money they’ll get – and because state lawmakers like to micromanage districts to the point of dictating staffing levels – schools don’t know exactly what positions they can fill until right before the school year.
The uncertainty impacts schools in at least two critical ways. First, districts are left scrambling for teachers right before the school year begins, which is far from the ideal way to fill positions important to N.C. children. Also, other states get an earlier shot at the best young educators graduating from N.C. universities.
This week, the N.C. Senate passed a bill that weakened school districts even more by putting a five-year moratorium on local school boards filing actions challenging the money they get from county boards of commissioners.
The solution is simple. N.C. lawmakers need to finish their budget earlier. Other states, including our neighbor Virginia, do so. If that’s too hard for our lawmakers, they should craft a continuing resolution or another mechanism that allows them to commit earlier to school funding.
That, however, would take a commitment to the welfare of public schools.