Source: News & Observer
North Carolina’s traditional calendar schools are now back in session and many don’t have enough teachers or bus drivers to properly operate, all because Republicans in the legislature can’t do their job and agree on a state budget, Democratic lawmakers and school board members have said.
House Democrats, parents and members of local school boards held a press conference in mid-August, a few weeks before schools reopened, to warn about the impending issues that districts would be facing due to the lack of a budget.
Now, 1.5 million students are back in classrooms across the state and school districts are at a severe disadvantage when it comes to hiring necessary employees and staff because they can’t even tell prospective hires how much they will get paid due to there being no state budget.
“Right now we can’t even tell our staff and our hires what they might be making next month with any certainty,” Wake County school board vice chair Chris Heagarty said. “That uncertainty makes it hard to fill those crucial jobs that our families rely on to educate and transport their children.”
According to The News & Observer, those who spoke at the press conference put the blame squarely at the feet of the NCGOP.
“Pass the budget as soon as possible,” said Rep. Rosa Gill, a Wake County Democrat. “Increase teachers’ and other educational resources’ pay and increase per-student spending. We have the resources. Let’s use them.”
Due by July 1, Republicans have been holding the budget hostage despite having a supermajority to pass whatever spending bill they want to. Republicans in the House and Senate can’t agree on dozens of different aspects of the budget and House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) told reporters that there was “zero chance” the budget would pass before Sept. 1. Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) more recently said it probably wouldn’t be until at least the second week of September before any budget passes, The News & Observer reported.
Without a new budget in place, schools are operating on last year’s funding levels. This means that teachers have yet to receive planned raises and they also don’t know how much those raises will eventually be if and when a budget passes.
In an attempt to be reassuring, Berger told reporters that “for all practical purposes [we have] a budget going forward” and that there wouldn’t be “the kind of shutdowns that you see at the federal level…”
Having a budget “for all practical purposes” isn’t the same as having an actual budget. A budget “for all practical purposes” doesn’t provide educators with needed pay raises, doesn’t put teachers in classrooms, doesn’t safely transport students to school, or provides those students with the tools necessary to be successful in the classroom.
Wake County is the largest school district in the state and the legislative press conference focused a lot on the issues facing the district – such as having hundreds of teacher vacancies and not having enough bus drivers to operate all routes.
“I saw one teacher teaching three classrooms at once,” said Rep. Tim Longest, a Wake County Democrat. “Teachers are superheroes, but it’s not in their job description. It’s the job of the state to provide a sound basic education to every student.”
As for bus drivers, this year’s shortage in Wake County is a continuation of a problem that has been going on for at least two years now.
“While families are struggling to figure out how their kids are going to get to school and if they will have qualified teachers, the North Carolina legislature is sitting on billions of dollars,” said Teresa Jones, president of the Wake County PTA Council.
Heagarty said at the press conference that it’s extremely difficult to hire bus drivers when they can make more money working at a fast food restaurant. In North Carolina, the state pays the base salaries of most school employees and then counties provide local salary supplements, according to The News & Observer.
Even though those who are impacted on a daily basis by the lack of a budget spoke about the issues they’re dealing with, Berger minimized the effect of the budget delay.
“The folks that are going to get raises will get those raises,” Berger said. “It’s just that they might be delayed a little bit. I don’t know that that’s something that as a practical matter, really impairs things.”
Looking at the current situation and noting that Republicans will include tax cuts in the state budget, as well as take money from public schools and use it to increase funding for Opportunity Scholarships (private charter school vouchers) it would be fair to wonder if the NCGOP is trying to starve public schools.
It certainly appears that that’s exactly what the Republicans are trying to do. It becomes even more clear when one considers that the NCGOP has for years refused to comply with the funding required in the Leandro plan, which has been in the courts for 30 years. That includes the party’s refusal to comply with a 2022 state Supreme Court order to increase public school funding. The state Supreme Court’s new right-wing majority has since blocked the previous court’s ruling on Leandro funding, so Republicans can claim there’s nothing they can do about it even if they wanted to (which they don’t).
“Press the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate to say, ‘Look if you value education, then put your money where your mouth is,’” said Wake County school board member Tyler Swanson, a former teacher. “Use the money that we’re sitting on for the rainy day fund.”
Rep. Julie von Haefen, a Wake County Democrat, didn’t hold back when explaining what Republicans are doing – she said the GOP’s “end goal is to divest in and dismantle our public education system.”
“This plan is clear: Starve public schools of what they need to succeed and then criticize them for their shortcomings,” von Haefen said. “Erode trust by stoking fear and divisions, creating rifts between parents and teachers.”