House and Senate Democrats held a joint press conference today to denounce proposed GOP budget cuts to education spending.
The latest version of the budget moving through the Senate targets education for nearly $1.3 billion in cuts, spending less on schools than the House budget did. About $800 million of that would come out of K-12 education.
Democrats say cuts that deep would be disastrous, driving North Carolina to near-dead last in per-pupil spending in the entire country.
“I didn’t think it could get any worse, but it has,” said Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt. “This is not a fire drill. This is for real. The dismantling of the public school system has begun.”
House Republicans said their budget protected funding for classroom teachers. But school districts from Mecklenburg to Duplin to Guilford have already started telling teachers their positions are being cut.
“Layoffs are beginning, and the pink slips are coming,” said House Minority Leader Joe Hackney. “There is growing public anger about this. The public does not want this.”
The Democrats brought a guest to today’s press conference – Jennifer Tuft, a 30-year-old kindergarten teacher at Archdale Elementary near High Point. She was notified a week ago her position will be eliminated. A second teacher at her school and three assistants got similar notices, and she suspects more may be on the way.
Because she’s tenured, Tuft would get priority if another position opens up in her county. But with all the cuts, she’s not convinced that will happen. And she’s not sure how she’ll provide for her three adopted children if it doesn’t.
Tuft has 22 children in her kindergarten class. Eight are English Second Language students, two are ADHD. At least 10 have individualized educational plans. She has a teacher assistant most of the day. “I just couldn’t do it without her,” she said.
Meantime, Senate Leader Phil Berger told reporters yesterday he believes the proposed cuts will actually improve education. He says the GOP’s goal is to cut class size in K-3 down to an average of 15 students over the next 5 to 10 years.
“The studies seem to show there is no provable, discernable benefit from teacher assistants,” Berger said. “Smaller classes with a good teacher is the one thing that seems to work best.”