Education Funding

N. Carolina Schools Brace For Budget Crunch

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — May 02, 2001 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Faced with the threat of a deepening budget crisis, North Carolina school leaders are bracing for what observers say could be the toughest test yet of the state’s resolve to improve public education.

Legislators have asked state education officials to find ways to cut more than $125 million, or about 2.3 percent of the state allocation for public schools in the fiscal 2002 budget. While lawmakers have suggested that spending for materials and noninstructional positions be slashed first, officials and observers say the extent of the proposed cutbacks is likely to lead to the elimination of instructional programs and teaching positions.

Such steps, they warn, could seriously undermine the state’s most aggressive and consistent reform program to date.

“We’ve gone after buses and spark plugs and cleaning supplies first,” said state schools Superintendent Michael E. Ward. “We’ve tried to protect the classroom as much as possible, but you can’t with cuts of this magnitude.”

Budget worries have plagued the North Carolina legislature for months. Fallout from Hurricane Floyd last year, enrollment increases, and the national economic slowdown are among the factors straining the budget.

In February, Gov. Michael F. Easley declared that the state’s $800 million budget shortfall for fiscal 2001 amounted to an emergency. Mr. Easley, a Democrat, vowed to continue school improvement efforts despite the crisis, and education appeared to have dodged the knife when the governor announced $1 billion in budget cuts for this fiscal year. So state school officials were surprised by an April 11 letter from the Senate appropriations committee asking that they identify where spending could be reduced.

Cuts Identified

In their response, Mr. Ward and Philip J. Kirk Jr., the chairman of the state board of education, wrote that “such reductions run counter to Governor Easley’s promise that services to children could not suffer as the state went about the business of identifying sources to balance the budget.”

“Cuts of this magnitude will stymie the educational progress the state has made since 1995,” they added.

The state board and the schools chief identified potential cuts of $10 million, or 10 percent, from the department of public instruction; more than $25 million in district-level support-staff jobs, such as clerical and janitorial positions; $7 million for classroom teachers, the equivalent of 189 positions; and $13.5 million for teacher assistants.

The proposal would also eliminate the $2.7 million school breakfast program; the school-safety-assistance teams established after the Columbine school shootings, for a savings of $500,000; and $6.7 million for professional-development.

The worsening financial picture comes as the state is making strides in improving student achievement and raising teacher salaries.

North Carolina has drawn praise nationally for its aggressive accountability plan, which grants rewards to school that meet predetermined achievement goals on state tests and punishes those that do not. The 5-year-old plan has drawn hundreds of millions of additional dollars into education, providing salary adjustments to bring teacher pay up to the national average and bonuses for teachers and other staff members in the state’s improving schools.

Other states have used the ABCs of Public Education, as the program is called, as a model for their own accountability initiatives. Observers have warned, however, that sustaining the effort could prove difficult if the state’s economic boom went bust.

“North Carolina is one of the states that is leading the pack in terms of improving test scores and intelligent reforms,” said David W. Grissmer, a senior management scientist with the RAND Corp. in Santa Monica, Calif., who has studied North Carolina’s accountability plan.

The current budget picture is “a serious problem for education reform,” Mr. Grissmer said. “Reform without resources is sort of empty,” he said. “It’s not going to be a disaster next year or the year after, but three or four years down the line.”

A ‘Test Case’

Just as the economic boom helped push North Carolina to the forefront of education improvement nationally, it could be the state to watch as it struggles to sustain its efforts through fiscal instability.

“I think the North Carolina financial situation is going to be a good test case for the rest of the country when it comes to sticking the course on education reform,” said G. Thomas Houlihan, a North Carolina educator who will take over the helm of the Council of Chief State School Officers this summer. “At the same time, it may be an opportune time to take a look at some of the recommendations that have been funded and determine whether or not they’re working.”

State lawmakers expect that the final budget could contain considerably smaller cuts if the governor’s savings measures are approved and projections for increased tax revenues pan out.

“We do not want to impact the progress we are making in our public schools,” said Sen. Walter Dalton, a Democrat and the senior chairman of the education appropriations committee. “But life is not easy. We also have the constitutional mandate to balance the budget.”

Even so, Mr. Dalton added, many lawmakers view the ABCs program as “fairly sacrosanct.”

Further complicating the situation is a judge’s ruling in March in the state’s 7-year-old school finance case that would require districts to serve the needs of disadvantaged students first, even if it meant diverting money from upper-level academic programs, administration, and extracurricular activities.

The state board has appealed the decision. Last week, Superior Court Judge Harold E. Manning Jr. denied the state’s request for a stay of the ruling. The state is now expected to ask the state supreme court to delay implementation of the ruling during the appeal.

Local school officials met in Raleigh last week to discuss the proposed cuts. The budget could force districts to make some hard choices between people and programs, the officials reported.

In the New Hanover County public schools, a 22,000-student district in Wilmington, for example, the cuts identified by the state would reduce the district’s $134 million operating budget by $1.3 million, said Superintendent D. John Morris Jr. That translates into about 31 teaching and support-staff positions, and a sizable reduction for transportation at a time when enrollments and gas prices are rising. The money the district requested from the county’s commissioners is coming up short as well.

“We have put everything on the table,” Mr. Morris said. “Are we going to cut middle school athletics, which benefit the students who most need activities after school? Do you cut back on nurses and social workers?”

One thing is certain, Mr. Morris said: “This is going to hit real hard.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the May 02, 2001 edition of Education Week as N. Carolina Schools Brace For Budget Crunch

Events

School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Get a Strong Start to the New School Year
Get insights and actions from Education Week journalists and expert guests on how to start the new school year on strong footing.
Reading & Literacy Webinar A Roadmap to Multisensory Early Literacy Instruction: Accelerate Growth for All Students 
How can you develop key literacy skills with a diverse range of learners? Explore best practices and tips to meet the needs of all students. 
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
College & Workforce Readiness Webinar
Supporting 21st Century Skills with a Whole-Child Focus
What skills do students need to succeed in the 21st century? Explore the latest strategies to best prepare students for college, career, and life.
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Funding What the Research Says 1 in 5 Homeless Students Left School Since the Pandemic. Can Funding Help Find Them?
Federal aid has expanded district resources for homeless students, but capacity remains a problem.
3 min read
Kimora Gantt, 8, right, does homework while Jason Gantt, 5, gets his head shaved by his father, Bobby Gantt. After struggling with homelessness, the family has found stability in a home they rent through the housing authority in Tacoma, Wash.
Kimora Gantt, 8, right, does homework while Jason Gantt, 5, gets his head shaved by his father, Bobby Gantt, in 2021. After struggling with homelessness, the family found stability in 2021 in a home they rented through the housing authority in Tacoma, Wash.
Ian C. Bates for Education Week
Education Funding The COVID School-Relief Funds You Might Not Know About, Explained
Governors got $7 billion to spend on COVID relief efforts for K-12 and higher education with broad discretion on how to use it.
6 min read
Illustration of a helping hand with dollar bill bridging economy gap during coronavirus pandemic, assisting business people to overcome financial difficulties.
Feodora Chiosea/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Education Funding Puerto Rico Schools to Use New Aid for Teacher Raises, Hurricane and COVID Recovery
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona announced $215 million in federal funds before the start of the new school year.
3 min read
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visits the University of Puerto Rico at Carolina during a trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico on July 28, 2022.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visits the University of Puerto Rico at Carolina during a trip to San Juan on July 28.
Carlos Rivera Giusti/GDA via AP Images
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Education Funding Quiz
Quiz Yourself: How Much Do You Know About ESSER funding for Career and Technical Education Programs?
Answer 7 questions to assess your knowledge on ESSER funding for CTE programs.
Content provided by iCEV