Back-to-school time is always stressful for parents. We shop for a ton of items, we get laundry done, we plan lunch menus, we clean band instruments – basically, we make sure the kids have all their shit together so they can get a successful start to the year.
Unfortunately, no matter how much we buy and plan, whether or not our children's school year will be successful is tied in some part to our state lawmakers — and they can't seem to get their shit together at all.
North Carolina's fiscal year ended on June 30. A new state budget was supposed to be passed prior to that so it could take effect on July 1. Instead, it's been extended three times. The deadline currently stands at September 18 (not that it means anything).
Being almost 80 days into the fiscal year before being given an operating budget puts strain and uncertainty on every state-run operation, but perhaps none feel it as badly as our schools.
We are now a few weeks into the 2015-2016 school year and across North Carolina, teachers and their assistants are showing up for work every day without knowing if they actually have a job this year. If they keep their jobs, they don't know what their pay will be, or whether the students they've already begun teaching will still be in their class or if their class will grow smaller or larger.
So, they wait patiently on a group of grown adults to end a pissing contest for long enough to tell them whether or not they'll be able to pay their bills next month. As hard as our low-paying state already makes it for educators to pay their bills, this just seems like adding the ultimate insult to injury.
Don't mistake this for a bipartisan issue. This is not a matter of two political parties that can't agree. Republicans have a supermajority in the General Assembly. This is them posturing and trying to out-extreme one another, and they're not worried about angering constituents because they've already cemented their reelections by gerrymandering their own districts.
The House, which is a more diverse legislative body, originally proposed an overall budget of $22.22 billion with $12.15 billion going to education. The Senate countered with its own overall budget proposal which was about $1 billion less, with $11.87 billion going towards education. At this point, they've agreed to a compromise on what the dollar amount of the budget will be. The hold up is reportedly attributed to a dispute about education funding. The House would like to keep all teacher assistants. The Senate wants to cut them and add more teachers in order to reduce class sizes.
Of course, it's odd they can't just do both, given that the Governor's office has repeatedly boasted about a $445 million budget surplus we had at the end of last fiscal year. That's not slated for schools, though. It's going to what really matters to our Republican lawmakers — corporate tax cuts.
Meanwhile, Democrats are left trying to raise public awareness about what's happening, lest they catch some of the inevitable blowback from the situation. Senator Terry Van Duyn of Asheville took to the Senate floor and recited the daily costs of not coming up with a budget.
Every day the gavel bangs and our state legislature convenes, it costs us $42,000. After three deadline extensions, the tab is at almost $2 million, enough to hire about 60 new teachers or save the jobs of 100 teacher's assistants.
State Senator Jeff Jackson (D) of Charlotte once again proved he understands social media better than any lawmaker in Raleigh (and possibly America) by shadowing a teacher's assistant at work last week and posting a journal of his experience (Spoiler alert: She's amazing and indispensable and it'll make you want to personally fistfight any legislator who votes for her removal). This was to make clear to his followers the value of teacher's assistants. If the Senate gets their way, about 1,200 of them will be cut from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
When Democrats were the majority party in 2009, with the economy in collapse, there was also a much shorter delay in passing the budget. At the time, our current Senate President, Phil Berger (R-Guildford), made headlines, telling the press he saw a budget delay as a sign of incompetence. "For the average person, when they have a deadline and they need to get something done, they are held accountable," he said. I guess he thinks he's way above-average. At this rate, North Carolina's students never will be.
North Carolina General Assembly
North Carolina state budget