It’s not an education budget

It’s not an education budget

- in Fitzsimon File

If you just glanced at the news stories, you’d think the House budget proposal was a major step forward for education.

A story in one paper Wednesday morning came with the headline “House budget proposal adds more than $330 million to local school districts.”

Not exactly. The new funding for public schools in the House budget replaces $258 million in expiring federal funding that is keeping close to 5,000 teachers in the classroom and it avoids the $74 million increase in the discretionary cut to local schools scheduled for next year.

That’s where the “new” money goes, to keep education funding at roughly the same level as last year when more than 3,000 teachers and teacher assistants were fired, classroom supplies were cut and support personnel were laid off.

Holding the line at last year’s woefully inadequate funding level is certainly better than another round of devastating cuts, but it’s hardly something to celebrate. Not going further backwards is not going forward.

And most of that not really new funding is one-time money that may not be there next year for local schools. That’s an accounting maneuver that was rightly condemned by Republicans when Democrats did it because it creates a hole in next year’s budget. Republicans don’t seem too worried about the practice now they are using it.

Then there are the mixed messages about education from Republican leaders. For months, they have been criticizing public schools and saying that more money is not the answer. Republican gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory proclaims almost daily that our schools are “broken” and need reform, not more funding.

And yet in this election year, Republican lawmakers are now touting their disingenuous version of increased funding for public schools as evidence of their wise leadership of the General Assembly.

They are trying to have it both ways primarily because they understand that voters do not support the deep cuts made last year to public schools. Parents don’t want larger classes for their kids and they don’t want teacher assistants fired and they don’t want out-of-date textbooks in their children’s backpacks.

The real evidence of what House leaders think of public schools comes not in their carefully crafted budget talking points, but in a small and mostly ignored item in the budget they have developed.

The spending plan sets aside $617,000 for House Bill 1104, the Equal Opportunity Tax Credit.

That’s right-wing talk for a school voucher plan sponsored by House Majority Leader Paul Stam and a few other public-school-dismantlers.

It would give corporations a dollar for dollar tax credit for donating money to nonprofits set up to give $4,000 scholarships to students who attend private or religious schools.

Stam bristles when people call his tax credit scheme a voucher, but that’s exactly what it is, a backdoor voucher plan that robs money from traditional public schools with questionable results for students and little accountability from the groups that handle the money.

Stam’s bill would eventually allow up to $40 million to be diverted from public schools, far more than accounted for in the current version of the House budget.

But the intent is clear. Republican legislative leaders want the education privatization door kicked opened further this year, though they don’t talk much about it.

They’d rather instead mislead us about how much they are funding the public schools they don’t really support.