By now, kids all over the Triangle are back in school, and the chaos has died down in the school supply aisles of area retailers.
But, as much as kids love their new backpacks and sharp crayons, we parents know that what our kids need most for a successful year couldn’t be found in stores or put on school supply lists.
It’s the teachers, the assistants, the counselors, the cafeteria workers, and the custodians who make our schools good places to be and ensure that our kids succeed.
Unfortunately, those are exactly the “supplies” that our state legislators decided weren’t so important earlier this summer when they approved a state budget cutting nearly $1 billion dollars from public education.
As kids statewide headed back into the classroom, many of the faces they’ve come to rely on weren’t there. Since the budget went into effect in July, 4,300 classroom positions have been eliminated and many more support positions. According to the Employment Security Commission, a majority of the 11,800 local government jobs lost involved teachers and others in education.
North Carolina wasn’t a big spender on public schools even before the budget cuts. The Charlotte Observer reports that in 2009-10, North Carolina ranked 44th in the country, with per pupil spending of $8,529, compared to the U.S. average of $10,586, according to a study by the National Education Association.
But spending here has dropped since then, according to 2010-11 estimates from the NEA. Those estimates show North Carolina at $8,303 in per pupil spending, compared to the U.S. average of $10,826. That would put North Carolina at 45th or 46th. But it’s expected that the full impact of the budget cuts will drop North Carolina to 49th in the nation, just behind Mississippi.
Even communities that were able to avoid direct cuts to teachers and assistants in the classroom are feeling the impact as cuts mean classrooms are cleaned less frequently, thermostats are readjusted to save money, and school supply lists get longer.
The budget approved by N.C. lawmakers cut school supply budgets by 46 percent at a time when many teachers were already reaching into their own pockets to buy supplies for their classrooms.
And cuts to funds for buses will likely mean rides to school will take longer with greater risk for breakdowns.
According to the NC Budget & Tax Center, the FY11-12 state budget cuts the amount of money available to run the state's 2,515 schools by $2.5 million per school day
We count on our schools to prepare our children for the future and to build a workforce in North Carolina that can compete in a global market. When state lawmakers failed to invest appropriately in education, they failed our children and our state.
Beth Messersmith is a Durham mother of two and member of NC MomsRising. She writes monthly for Go Ask Mom.