STATE SUPERINTENDENT ATKINSON AND EDUCATION LEADERS WARN ADDITIONAL BUDGET CUTS PUT PUBLIC SCHOOLS AT SERIOUS RISK
State Superintendent June Atkinson today joined Asheville City Schools' Superintendent Allen Johnson, Buncombe County Schools' Superintendent Tony Baldwin and principals, teachers and students at Hall Fletcher Elementary School in Asheville to discuss the impact of proposed budget cuts to K-12 education at both the state and local levels.
"North Carolina ranked 42nd in the nation in the amount of money it spends per student in 2007-08 and this year, our public schools received a smaller appropriation from the state's General Fund than in 2006-07, even though we now have 30,000 more students." Atkinson said. "A decrease in state funding provided for K-12 public education is a harmful trend that, if it continues, will endanger our schools, our students and our state's economic health in the future."
In the 2009-11 biennial state budget approved last year, the public school budget was cut by 12 percent and schools lost 16,253 state-paid positions this year. Additional cuts under consideration for this year bring the total amount of public school cuts to $1.2 billion. This represents a 16 percent total decrease in North Carolina General Fund support for public schools compared to the 2008-09 funding level.
The budget for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) was cut by 8 percent for 2009-10. This reduction, when combined with cuts slated for 2010-11 and additional cuts in the Governor's proposed budget, add up to a two-year cut of 24 percent for the NCDPI while other state agencies have been cut by only 2 to 7 percent. These decreases also are coming at a time in which the U.S. Department of Education is requiring more state monitoring, reporting and technical assistance and the agency is undertaking an ambitious effort to redefine the state's Standard Course of Study, testing program and the school accountability model.
Education leaders at every level agree that any additional reductions in funding for public education will translate to more teacher layoffs, increased class sizes, fewer middle and high school electives and sports, fewer programs to help at-risk students, fewer summer programs and a significant decrease in support districts, schools and teachers receive from the NCDPI.
"Buncombe County Schools has already lost $17 million in state and local funding and 115 positions going into the current year," said Superintendent Baldwin. "We have protected K-3 classrooms so far, but class sizes for other grades have increased substantially, and will continue to do so if the budget outlook does not improve. If we are to continue doing all we can to prepare young people for their future, we need the support of parents and the community more than ever before."
Baldwin also notes that his district has stopped receiving state funds for school support personnel such as clerical and custodial staff, they have no textbook budget, and the district's instructional supply budget, which was cut 50 percent this year, is dwindling rapidly. Many districts across the state are facing similar challenges.
"Cuts in state textbook funds threaten our ability to provide students with up-to-date resources and materials for the 21st century," said Superintendent Allen Johnson. "Asheville City Schools is committed to implementing Integrated Math in our district, but the lack of textbook funding is jeopardizing our ability to efficiently implement that change. Our administrators and teachers have identified math as a critical area in our district and our students need more resources, not less, to meet the rigor of a challenging curriculum."
At the school level, budget cuts have forced principals to eliminate key staff positions and eliminate valuable school programs students need to compete with their peers in other states and countries.
"Our students have a strong foundation in basic skills, but as we prepare them for lifelong learning, we must address the skills they need to adapt to emerging technologies," said Dr. Andy Peoples, principal of North Buncombe Elementary School and president of the North Carolina Principals and Assistant Principals Association (NCPAPA). "We had made a good start with the installation and implementation of some of these systems at our school, but last year's budget cuts cost us our technology support person, a key player in our school wide technology initiative. The service she provided was invaluable as she was able to correct problems as they occurred, and to support teachers and students in the classroom."
Atkinson and the local superintendents called on the state's leaders to prepare for the end of federal stimulus money in 2011-12 now and to decide the state's priorities directly rather than implementing piecemeal cuts to education that cannot be sustained for the long term.
"Local school districts should not receive funds with one hand and then be forced to make very tough decisions and return a large sum of money with the other hand," Atkinson said. "Our schools are our future. It is imperative to fund public schools first."
For more information about the impact of proposed budget cuts on K-12 education, contact the NCDPI Communications division at 919.807.3450.
About the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction:
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction provides leadership to 115 local public school districts and 160 charter schools serving over 1.5 million students in kindergarten through high school graduation. The agency is responsible for all aspects of the state's public school system and works under the direction of the North Carolina State Board of Education.
For more information:
NCDPI Communication and Information Division, 919.807.3450.