Needs at public schools, colleges

From Chris Fitzsimon, executive director, NC Policy Watch:

The sessions of the General Assembly held in even-numbered years were created 40 years ago to give lawmakers the opportunity to make adjustments to the two-year budget they passed the year before.

Lawmakers must give teachers a raise and the two percent that Gov. Pat McCrory has proposed is not enough. McCrory has yet to endorse a plan by former Gov. Jim Hunt to raise teacher pay to the national average in four years. The state currently ranks 46th. Hunt’s plan is a bolder and wiser course.

And schools need more than better paid teachers. Lawmakers should make it a priority this year to restore some of the damaging cuts they have made in the last few years to classrooms, from slashing funding for textbooks and supplies to forcing schools systems across the state to increase class sizes and take teacher assistants out of early grade classrooms.

And it’s not just K-12 schools that need and deserve more resources. The university system, once considered the crown jewel of North Carolina and a vital part of the state’s economic development efforts, is reeling after several years of damaging cuts.

Faculty pay at community colleges ranks as low as teacher pay in our public schools. Lawmakers need to raise it substantially next year too.

The response that there’s not enough money available is disingenuous. The budget is simply a list of priorities and last year McCrory and legislative leaders decided that giving a $12,000 tax cut to millionaires was more important than giving teachers a raise or making sure middle school students had the textbooks they need.

They need to revisit that decision.

They also must act to address the most egregious part of last year’s disastrous tax plan, allowing the state Earned Income Tax Credit to expire. The EITC is hardly a liberal idea. Former President Ronald Reagan called the federal EITC the best anti-poverty program that Congress ever created.

There’s plenty more that the General Assembly could do, but addressing our scandalously low teacher pay, restoring some of the devastating cuts made to education at all levels, and restoring the state EITC would be a good start.