Budget message: seeing dollar signs as a statement of priorities

More than two months after the beginning of the new fiscal year and nearly a month after the beginning of the school year, North Carolina has a budget. We wish we could say it was worth the wait; but given that its best feature — in terms of public schools — is that it’s not as bad as it could have been, educators are understandably more relieved than excited.

Now that it’s over, it’s hard to imagine why education issues were among the sticking points that caused the delay. Funding pay increases for starting teachers just fulfilled a promise made last year. The idea that North Carolinians wouldn’t react strongly to the Senate’s plan to kill state support of driver education or to lay off thousands of teacher assistants was fantasy. But so was any expectation that House members would hold firm on a budget plan that came much closer to giving public education the help it needs.

No pay raise for teachers and other state employees again this year. No cost-of-living increase for state retirees, many of whom are former educators. More restrictions on how school districts can spend state dollars. Deeper budget cuts for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. More public money set aside for private and parochial schools. Another leg up for charter schools in North Carolina.

Public school employees will take the $750 bonus and public schools will benefit from increased allocations for textbooks and technology. We realize that crafting a budget calls for compromise. Given that a budget is a statement of priorities as much as spending document, however, the give-and-take in Raleigh these last nine months has once again compromised the effectiveness of public education.

Here’s a digest of reactions to the education portion of the budget Gov. McCrory’s signature will make law today:

— From EdNC, a commentary on an education budget without a theme http://tinyurl.com/ptuop3y and on driver education funding http://tinyurl.com/nbayghr

— From NC Policy Watch, a reporter on the reaction of some House members to the compromise http://tinyurl.com/nu8rblh and a quick summary of education items in the budget http://tinyurl.com/plrgln4

— From the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, results of a survey showing “North Carolina voters strongly value local public schools, support greater investments in overall funding and want more investment in teachers. The most recent survey shows great concern that state education policy and funding are undermining the public’s desire to ensure that each child is challenged to grow and is prepared for success in college, career and life.” http://tinyurl.com/plrgln4