To the Editor:
The Republican state legislators have repeatedly said that the $428 million in cuts to the public education system would not affect teachers, teacher assistants, or students. State Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, wrote, "Teachers and students ... are protected under the new budget... It is a fact that teachers and teacher assistants were fully funded in the new state budget."
This is where smoke and mirrors appear. Teacher and teacher assistant salaries may be funded in three different ways. First, salaries may be funded by the state directly or indirectly by the state by providing operational money to each school district; secondly, by local funds; and lastly from federal funds. The Republican legislature slyly cut almost all of the $428 million reduction from the operating funds given by the state to each school district. Thus the local schools were faced with choices like cutting out custodians and cafeteria workers or eliminating teacher and teacher assistant positions. When teaching jobs were necessarily cut on the local level because of such severe reduction in state operational money given to local districts, the legislators can then claim it wasn't them but the local districts that cut these positions.
The actual results of the budget cuts have been tabulated by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, and the smoke and mirrors are now lifted. From the Department of Public Instruction, in just the 2011-12 school year 1,723 K-12 classroom teachers and 2,282 teacher assistant jobs were eliminated.
"This is the first time since the Great Depression in the 1930s that NC public schools have decreased the number of teacher positions during a time of student growth." The superintendent of Public Instruction writes, "When you look at these numbers, it is striking to think of the impact for students. There are fewer adults in schools, more students in each class in all grades, and fewer staff to help students who may struggle or need help with learning."
What is even worse, every one of the lost teaching jobs in 2011 could have been fully paid for if the legislators had not cut out $78 million in revenue by decreasing income tax by 3 percent on the super-wealthy (households earning more than $250,000). Does Jim Davis really care about our public education teachers and students, or is his priority more about giving tax breaks to his multi-millionaire supporters like Art Pope?
I don't know if Jim Davis was intentionally misleading the citizens of this state, or if he was just plain ignorant of the educational budgeting process and that the public education cuts he voted for would eventually lead to loss of teachers and teaching assistants, but I do know that the teachers, teacher assistants, students, and citizens in WNC deserve better representation than they now have in Raleigh.