Late August has become synonymous with the relieved sighs of parents sending their kids back to school. As much as we love our children and love to spend time with them, summer vacation puts a strain on the checkbook: camps, babysitting, pool membership, karate lessons… This year, the sighs of relief have been replaced by sighs of frustration as parents are asked to fill in the gaps of a slashed education budget.
The new state budget drains $500 million from public education and transfers $90 million from public schools to private schools via a new voucher program. The voucher program and cuts led North Carolina’s State Superintendent for Public Schools, Dr. June Atkinson, to remark, “For the first time in my career of more than 30 years in public education, I am truly worried about students in our care.” Yikes.
Teachers across the state have been working Saturday mornings, preparing for the start of classes, despite earning some of the smallest teachers’ salaries in the country AND not receiving a raise for the fifth year in a row. But teachers can’t do their jobs when they don’t have classroom supplies, textbooks, or technology. They can’t provide one-on-one instruction when their class sizes increase—and their teachers assistants are taken away. The legislative budget cuts over 5,000 teachers, 3,800 teaching assistants, and almost 300 school counselors, social workers, and other support staff from across the state. Kip Baker, an Art teacher at Bogue Sound Elementary School in Beaufort, feels “set up to fail.”
Here are some other highlights of the education budget that reinforce Kip Baker’s feeling:
- Provides no pay raises for teachers or state employees, but adds five vacation days;
- Reduces funding for school bus maintenance and replacement by $29.8 million;
- Eliminates the salary boost for teachers with advanced degrees;
- Phases out the NC Teaching Fellows program, which annually selected 500 promising high school seniors to receive four-year scholarships and to graduate with little or no college debt in return for teaching in public schools for four years after graduation;
- Raises community college tuition by $2.50 per hour for both residents and nonresidents;
- Cuts $66 million from the University of North Carolina campus system.
Wow. If you haven’t already received an email asking you to volunteer as a classroom aide or to purchase extra school supplies, I promise you will receive one soon. North Carolina teachers need all the help they can get. Parents understandably will feel stretched thin for time and money, but I know that you, they, and I will do whatever we can to fight for our schools. When it comes to our kids, failure is not an option.