Less is not more

Less is not more

- in Fitzsimon File

It’s a telling commentary that one of the Republican talking points about the final version of their state budget is that it restores $251 million in public school funding. That means that schools will have to make do with $81 million less than they have this year. And that apparently is something to brag about.

The state loses $258 million in federal education funding at the end of the year and there is a scheduled state cut of $74 million. That’s $332 million and the budget only replaces $251 million of it.

And that $81 million cut comes after last year’s budget slashing that cost schools more than 3,000 teacher and teacher assistant jobs and left schools with out of date textbooks, overcrowded classes, and woefully inadequate supplies.

The budget also includes most of Senator Berger’s ill-advised education reform plan that the House never really debated.

Berger’s plan to make teachers temporary employees thankfully was not included, but the rest of his package patterned after reforms in Florida did make the final spending plan, even though North Carolina students do better overall on national tests than their Florida counterparts.

The only real education bright spot, or more accurately lack of damage, was the decision not to include House Majority Leader Paul Stam’s tax credit/voucher scheme to divert funding for public education to unaccountable private and religious schools.

The House budget set aside money for the plan but it did not make the compromise plan. Tillis said it may still be considered by the House in separate legislation.

The budget also does nothing for the living victims of the state’s horrific eugenics program. The House approved legislation to give $50,000 in compensation to the survivors. It was clearly a priority for Tillis who spoke out for the proposal on the House floor. But the Senate would not go along.

The final budget also includes funding to fill a hole in Medicaid, provides a 1.2 percent pay raise for teachers and state employees, caps the gas tax, and provides small and woefully inadequate funding for tobacco prevention programs.

It does not restore funding for the nationally acclaimed N.C. Teaching Fellows programs that provides college scholarships for students to commit to at least four years in the classroom.

All those details and a handful of others were provided by Tillis and Berger at a midday news conference. No copies of the budget were provided to reporters, members of the public or even rank and file legislators beforehand.

And none were available at the Legislative Building or on the General Assembly website as of mid afternoon, raising the possibility that the schedule was a PR move to get through a news cycle without answering a lot of detailed questions.

Reporters can only report the information they have and all they have is what Tillis and Berger gave them.

If that was the plan, it seems fitting for a session with one of the least transparent budget processes in recent memory. Senate budget subcommittees never considered the budget in public meetings and House members never were allowed to debate the major education provisions it contains.

That tightly controlled process also extended to the Senate floor where Republican leaders refused to allow a vote on amendment that would have would made sure only small businesses received a tax cut that was a billed as a break only for them, not for the millionaire lawyers who are about to receive it.

That amendment would have used the money to avoid firing thousands of teachers and to fund compensation for the eugenics victims.

Tillis called the budget extraordinary, an odd term for a plan that cuts spending on public schools, ignores eugenics survivors, and allows tax cuts for millionaires.

It doesn’t seem extraordinary at all, not for the folks running the General Assembly these days.

About the author

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina.