School Funding

OPINION: A pandemic is not the time to cut funding for schools | Opinion

Public schools in North Carolina have had a rough time during the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools have had to adapt first to fully online learning, then to blended instruction and now to primarily in-person instruction that has to juggle learning and student safety. But now schools may have to find a way to work with almost $ 132 million in mid-year budget cuts.

The reason for these budget cuts is an overall decline in enrollment of 4.3% since the 2019-2020 school year. Since 2015, there has been a steady increase in attendance at private, private and home schools, but the decline in enrollment in public schools has been particularly marked in 2020. Some experts, such as the director of the Center for Effective Education of John Locke Foundation Terry Stoops, believe enrollment may never return to pre-pandemic levels due to the trend toward alternative schools and the declining birth rate.

Instead of seeing lower numbers as an excuse to cut funding for schools, lawmakers in the General Assembly should see this change as an opportunity to improve the educational experience for students and teachers.

What attracts many parents and students to charter schools, which have seen an 188% increase in enrollment over the past 10 years, is creative teaching, generally smaller classes and more educational choices for students.

The reduction in funding for schools will not encourage students who left the school system last year to return. Even with a 2019 enrollment-based budget, schools face terrible staff shortage, especially support roles. Teachers forgo their planning periods to act as replacements for vacant positions. If the estimated budget cuts are implemented, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg District will lose $ 15.2 million, which equates to 220 teachers.

When teachers are strained by filling multiple roles, it is much more difficult for them to provide one-on-one instruction, creative lesson plans, and the varied teaching styles that students need in the classroom. Students also lack readily available mental health care or special education. There are whole school districts without a designated psychologist.

The effects of these problems are already being felt. The data was released this year by the North Carolina Department of Education showing only 24% of students students in grades three to eight passed their end-of-year reading assessments in 2020-2021. While the tests don’t give the full picture of student performance, especially in an abnormal year like 2020, they are one of the best and only indicators we have of what students are learning or not learning. not learn.

The students who are in school right now do not deserve any education other than one that is very well funded. Raising staff salaries to resolve the staff crisis in schools must be the first of many steps. Declining enrollment is naturally reducing the student body at some schools, but that doesn’t mean staff should be shrinking as well. To bounce back from virtual learning difficulties, students will need a lot of time, which can only be provided by a large and well-equipped staff. In today’s labor market, this can only come from an increase in wages.

While this is a costly undertaking for the state, the students are well worth it. If general compassion isn’t enough to convince lawmakers in North Carolina to pass a sufficient budget for education, then the economy should. Our state’s future workforce is suffering in our schools right now. The obvious function of schools is to create a productive new generation of employees. If schools continue to fall behind, they will create poor future economic prospects for North Carolinians, especially those who are already disadvantaged.

This is not the first time in history that North Carolina has been accused of underfunding its education system. In 1994, the Leandro v. State of North Carolina The Supreme Court case ruled that the rights of thousands of schoolchildren had been violated by the state because they had not received a proper education. North Carolina is still below national standards as a judge has had to order compliance with Leandro’s comprehensive recovery plan.

Already, the students have experimented declining mental health and declining test scores; they don’t need to take on a funding cut as well just because the enrollment numbers go down a bit. Classrooms can recover from the inconvenience of over a year of virtual learning and a highly contagious virus, but it will take money. Schools deserve this money, and if the state invests now, there will be long-term benefits. If North Carolina continues to skimp on school budgets, ramifications will follow for years to come.

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