The first school bells on the traditional school calendar are scheduled to ring in less than a week, but administrators have no idea how much they can spend, while teaching assistants don’t even know if they’ll have a job.
North Carolina is one of only four states without an approved budget, despite the fact the budget year started more than a month ago. Crazier still, our state is the only state in which the same party controls both houses of the legislature, yet cannot agree on a spending plan. The delays will cost taxpayers more than $1 million but still, leaders can’t see their way through to compromise.
Lawmakers are at odds over several budget issues, but one of the most divisive is school funding. The House of Representatives’ plan calls to keep school funding at last year’s levels. The Senate plan would reduce classroom size and fire more than 3,000 K-3 classroom assistants.
In a lesser upset, the House version of the budget funds drivers’ education while the senate bill does not. This inconsistency has wreaked havoc for school district officials, some of whom have announced the end of drivers’ ed only to have to retract their statements.
Running a corporation without a financial plan wouldn’t only be unsound business — it’d be chaos. And that’s exactly what our school systems are facing. The inability to plan for the school year is crippling principals and superintendents who need to know how to arrange class lists and schedules.
For instance, if the Senate gets its way and reduces class size by adding classroom teachers and laying off assistants, where will schools find the room at short notice for all these new, small groups? Portable classrooms don’t grow on trees.
Or what if the House budget prevails? Districts that might have held off on hiring teacher assistants to fill empty positions might have to scramble to fully staff schools for the year. As things stand now, teachers are already back in their classrooms, decorating bulletin boards and writing lesson plans. The uncertainty of the coming year must be beyond frustrating.
We charge our elected officials with the creation of a thoughtful and fair budget. It’s great news that they take their jobs seriously and are considering how to most efficiently run our state. But at this point, the stalls and delays feel like political theater.
For the last 14 years — seven budget sessions — opposing factions of Republicans and Democrats, Senators and Representatives, have been able to reach accord. Why can’t they now, when it would mean so much to the state employees who nurture and educate our children?