Editor’s Note: The following article was recently published in Watauga County School’s seasonal newsletter, The Learning Leader, which can be viewed here.
Budget Decisions Shape Schools and Futures
By WCS Supt. Scott Elliott
Jan. 28, 2015. By the time you’re reading this, the long session of the NC legislature will be underway. If you’re a person with little interest in politics, you might be thinking “all their sessions seem long to me,” but the long session is one in which our state leaders develop a budget plan for the next two years.
Budgets are a formidable challenge for elected officials and I want to start this discussion by thanking our local and state leaders for the funding they have provided for public education. Our county commissioners have been especially supportive of our schools. We receive substantially more local funding than most school districts in NC and that support is crucial to our success as a district.
Most of our funding – close to 60 percent – still comes from the state. At least in general terms, the state budget reflects widespread agreement that education is the most important service the state provides: education (combining K-12 schools, community colleges, and the university system) accounts for a majority of state spend- ing. Unfortunately, there have been a lot of changes to education funding in recent years that have not been good for schools. We have had to make some very difficult choices as a result. We will face even more painful choices for next year.
Without going into a mind-numbing list of numbers, I want to share a few examples of the fallout from state budget decisions over the past six years. First, we have not done nearly
enough for teachers. A start in addressing this issue was made last year, but much more remains to be done. We are facing increased difficulty in recruiting and retaining high quality teachers in the face of higher pay in neighboring states and larger districts. Other school personnel—principals and assistants, office and maintenance personnel, cus- todians and central office staff—have fared even worse than teachers in re- gard to stagnant pay. Thousands of teacher assistant positions have been cut. State funding for school supplies, for technology, and for textbooks and other educational materials has been slashed. Replacement schedules for school buses have been extended. Funds for driver education have been completely eliminated for next year. A backlog of unmet facility improvement needs is growing across the state. And the list goes on.
This is not a partisan issue and I do not wish to make it one. Cuts to educa- tion happened in the late 2000’s when the Democrats were in control as well as under the Republican leadership of recent years. The point is that we are not meeting the needs of our students and we will be shortchanging their futures—and ours—if we stay on this course. Budgets reflect priorities and values. I believe we must act on the conviction that education is our most essential responsibility as a society. It’s even more important than new roads, great museums, or expanded health care, as valuable as those are, and it’s also more important than the state tax cuts that have recently made a tough situation even worse.
Our elected leaders have very demanding jobs and face difficult challenges in balancing the competing demands of their constituents. In facing those challenges, I hope they will keep in mind that their most important role and their most lasting legacy is the investment they make in our children.