Public education is an anti-crime measure, too

The Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners provided more money in the coming year's budget to tackle crime. That will please many concerned about the upswing in violent crimes. More than a dozen speakers showed up at Tuesday's commissioner's meeting to urge more spending on the criminal justice system.

Too bad the commissioners didn't view crime-fighting in a more expansive way, and provide better funding for an important tool – the public schools. The commissioners gave the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools less than half the increase in local money school officials said they need – $10 million, far short of Superintendent Peter Gorman's $28 million request. That boosted county funding to $351 million, about 30 percent of the CMS budget.

Superintendent Gorman says the lower amount is barely enough to cover enrollment growth and the opening of six new schools in August. The district keeps growing, with 3,500 more students expected in the fall, boosting enrollment to 135,800. The costs of growth, plus soaring fuel and utility bills, must be paid.

Cuts will likely come in initiatives aimed at improving student performance and graduation rates – the kinds of programs that can help reduce crime. It's students who drop out who are more likely to be unemployed, commit crimes, abuse drugs and need public assistance. Education is a crucial weapon in fighting crime.

We understand the reasons for the budget the commissioners approved. These are tight economic times and they wanted to avoid a tax increase. The board had to weigh schools' needs against other county responsibilities and the economic challenges that citizens face.

The commissioners didn't strike the right balance this time. The schools needed more. The impact of receiving so much less will be felt. We've seen this happen in the past when the county slashed or eliminated increased funding for schools as enrollment soared. The school system lagged in meeting academic and facility needs. Dropouts and the number of struggling students without adequate resources to address those problems increased.

Our schools are making progress even as challenges continue to rise. Short-sighted moves only hamper such progress. All of us feel the impact when students fail. It is in our community's best interests to help them succeed. Providing adequate help aids in deterring crime. Come budget time next year, we should remember that.