by John Grooms
As school budgets face deep cuts everywhere, concerns are mounting among education advocates over the long-term effect of the drastic reductions. State education officials are fighting back, pointing out that schools are taking a much bigger hit than other recipients of state funding.
Yesterday, North Carolinas State Schools Superintendent June Atkinson went on the offensive, saying the education budget has already been slashed too much, and warning that additional cuts would put public schools at serious risk. Atkinson, at a press conference in Asheville, pointed out that N.C. ranked 42nd in the U.S. in the amount of money spent per student in 2007-08 and, this year, our public schools received a smaller appropriation from the state's General Fund even though we now have 30,000 more students."
In a separate news release, the State Board of Education makes a very good case for the General Assembly finding additional cuts elsewhere than the schools. The Board notes that if new cuts being considered for this year are passed, it would mean the state will have cut its support for public schools by 16 percent from the previous budget. Add in proposed budget cuts for the N.C. Dept. of Public Instruction, plus additional reductions in Gov. Perdues budget, and it comes to a 24-percent cut for NCDPI, as opposed to the 2- to 7-percent cuts proposed for other state agencies. Atkinson summed up the situation succinctly: "Our schools are our future. It is imperative to fund public schools first."
This is where I come in and once again propose raising taxes to save the schools, after which many readers jump and down and yell that they are already overtaxed, and ask if I have lost my mind. Dear readers, I have good news. USA Today reports on their analysis of federal data, which reveals that Americans shows paid their lowest level of taxes last year since Harry Truman's presidency Federal, state and local taxes including income, property, sales and other taxes consumed 9.2% of all personal income in 2009, the lowest rate since 1950. The historic average during the past 50 years is 12 percent. The article goes into more detail on why Americans tax expenditures have gone down, including progressive changes in the rates enacted during the Clinton and Bush administrations and last years stimulus law, one-third of which went to tax cuts. Read the whole article here.
This all adds up to what Ive been saying for weeks: Education is way too important to become a political budgeting game; and yes, we can shoulder the minuscule tax increase it would take to save our schools, not to mention keep N.C.s education rankings from sinking any lower than they already are.