If there were any lingering doubts about the damage the budget passed by the Republican-led General Assembly is doing to public schools, they were removed emphatically Tuesday by people who know the truth, 26 school system superintendents who told their stories to the State Board of Education.
They talked about closing schools, firing teachers and teacher assistants, increasing class sizes, and wrestling with severe shortages of supplies and antiquated textbooks.
They talked about cancelling afterschool programs that were making a difference in students’ lives and slashing NC PreK by as much as half, denying at-risk kids the chance to start school with a decent chance to succeed.
They described classes so overcrowded that school employees have to stay a few classrooms ahead of the fire inspector when he comes to visit, rushing to move file cabinets into the hall so the school will pass inspection.
And they addressed the claims by Republican legislators and the right-wing think tanks that support them that local schools are top heavy with administrators by inviting state lawmakers to visit their school district offices and go through their books.
Maybe most importantly, they countered the claims by Republicans and a $500,000 ad campaign that the budget passed by the General Assembly increased state funding for teachers.
Clay County Superintendent Scott Penland, who said he has been a Republican all his life, answered the ad this way.
“It is dead wrong for the legislature to give us extra teaching positions with the right hand, and take money back with the left hand….and then go around the state saying you gave us more teachers.”
Data from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction show that there are 912 fewer teachers in classrooms this year and 2,042 fewer teacher assistants, thanks to the budget passed by the lawmakers last summer.
Penland wasn’t the only superintendent from a Republican county. Most of the superintendents who addressed the State Board came from Republican areas of the state with Republican county commissions and Republican school boards that are represented by Republicans in the General Assembly.
McDowell County Superintendent Ira Trolling said he is often asked what he thinks of what the General Assembly did last session and he always answers the same way, “Our children deserve better.”
Just as telling as the heart wrenching stories from the school officials were the reactions by Republican legislative leaders, their staff, and their propaganda partners in Raleigh.
Charles Thomas, Chief of Staff for House Speaker Thom Tillis, attended the meeting and during one of the more emotional presentations about the budget cuts tweeted “expensive looking photo presentation underway at State Board meeting.”
Never mind teachers losing their jobs and kids being locked out of preschool programs. How much did those pictures cost?
House Education Chair Bryan Holloway dismissed the whole meeting, calling the State Board a partisan group, ignoring the fact that the superintendents came from 26 mostly Republican counties, including one he represents.
And the head of Americans for Prosperity, one of the groups running the misleading ad about teachers, didn’t seem to be concerned about any of the stories, telling the News & Observer that people running schools always want more money.
But this meeting wasn’t about asking for more money. It was about what happens when funding for schools is slashed—teachers are fired, schools are hurt and children and families suffer.
The right-wingers inside and outside the General Assembly remain ridiculously defiant about any suggestions that the budget passed last summer is hurting kids.
People just have to decide who to believe about education funding, Republican politicians and partisan ideologues with the desperate propaganda they are spewing, or lifetime educators across the state who just happen to have the facts on their side.
It was sadly fitting that just a few hours after the State Board meeting ended, the Union County Board of Education voted to cut more than 400 classroom positions beginning in July because of the budget shortfall coming next year.
The General Assembly could step in and help, but Speaker Tillis has already said it’s unlikely they will.
Unlikely indeed. If this year’s is any indication, legislative leaders will refuse to find the money to keep people in classrooms in Union County and everywhere else in North Carolina.
That will mean thousands more teachers and teacher assistants will be fired and Republicans will spend another year denying that it ever happened.
But the problem for Republicans is that people already know. They can run as many misleading ads as they want to or desperately try to shift the blame to President Obama or Gov. Perdue.
But this is their budget that is devastating public education and hurting kids. That was clear before Tuesday’s State Board meeting. It is undeniable now.