House Speaker Thom Tillis now apparently having second thoughts about the Republicans decision this summer to abolish the N.C. Teaching Fellows Program as part of the their state budget cutting frenzy.
Tillis says that he now thinks it’s a good program and that lawmakers may have made a mistake. He is right about that, they did make a mistake in cutting the Teaching Fellows, despite claims otherwise by the right-wing think tanks that generally support Tillis and his Republican colleagues.
Tillis’ admission is reassuring at least for the college students and public schools that benefit from the program but it raises a few questions, not the least of which is why weren’t Tillis and his leadership team paying attention during the legislative session to the arguments against abolishing the program?
The proposal to end its funding created a stir inside and outside of the education community, but the budget writers plowed on anyway, determined to slash enough programs to cut taxes. That was their top priority, not to protect important programs, but to cut taxes regardless of the hardships that created.
Tillis says he has asked his staff for ways to keep the funding for the Teaching Fellows going and let’s hope he does. While he is the business of acknowledging mistakes in the Republican budget, he ought to ask around because there were plenty of other ones that Till ought to fix.
Here are a few other ideas for his do-over list, some that need a few million dollars and some that need much more.
The budget ended funding for the N.C. Drug Treatment Courts that save the state money, reduce crime and drug use, and give people a chance to turn their lives around. Tillis ought to talk some district attorneys if he is not convinced.
The budget also ended the Health and Wellness Trust Fund that provided support for many of the state’s most important public health campaigns, from battling teen smoking to addressing the obesity epidemic. It also funded a program to help seniors with their medication.
Tillis isn’t alone in his regret. Fellow Republican Rep. Hugh Blackwell is trying to stop the closing of the North Carolina School for the Deaf in Morganton. The Department of Public Instruction is holding a forum this week to decide which of the state’s schools for children with special needs will be closed.
Blackwell says the school in his district “a wonderful asset in the community,” but he voted for a budget that may result in its closure.
There are plenty more individual cuts that deserve a place on Tillis’ do-over list, cuts to victims assistance services, the Governor’s School, and the Highway Patrol training academy, which recently suspended its operations because of state budget cuts.
Surely Tillis has come to his senses by now and realized that it doesn’t make sense to stop helping crime victims, challenging exceptional students and training law enforcement officers to give everybody in the state a tax cut that isn’t enough to buy a pack of crackers out a vending machine every day.
Then there are items that ought to be at the top of list for reconsideration, like the cuts to More at Four and Smart Start that Judge Howard Manning says could deny students their constitutional right to a sound, basic education.
There are the massive cuts to education at all levels, as literally thousands of classroom teachers and teacher assistants, university faculty, and education support personnel are now out of work thanks to the Republican budget.
That is nowhere near an exhaustive list of the mistakes that Tillis and his colleagues made this session, but it is a start.
Let’s get the do-overs started Mr. Speaker.