Playing games, hurting students

While the state still doesn’t have a budget for the fiscal year which began almost eight weeks ago, negotiators from the governor’s office and the GOP-controlled General Assembly have agreed on a total spending figure for the year — $21.74 billion.

The figure is closer to the $21.65 billion Gov. Pat McCrory and the senate wanted, while a fair bit short of the House’s $22.16 billion spending plan. The target represents a 2.7 percent increase over the previous year’s budget.

Now the House and the Senate will be wrangling over the particulars — which programs get cut to stay under the agreed-upon figure, what spending is delayed, that sort of thing.

One program facing cuts that will be felt locally is the move by the Senate to eliminate the more than 6,700 teacher assistants across the state. Between Surry County and Mount Airy, that could result in nearly 150 lost jobs. Just as bad, that will affect both school systems’ ability to effectively meet their mandate to provide a quality education to the children and youths in area classrooms. Of particular concern is how this will play out vs. federal mandates that say children with handicaps often must have an individual education plan that includes a teaching assistant giving individual attention to that child.

This issue also highlights what happens when legislators are beholden to a party ideology rather than concerned with real life in their respective communities.

Eliminating the teacher assistants is part of the GOP promise to cut spending. Many of the present legislators were swept into office, at least in part, on a promise to cut taxes and cut spending. The General Assembly has certainly cut taxes, though it’s the upper middle class and the upper class who have primarily benefited.

To help offset some of that lost tax revenue the Legislature has to continue to make funding cuts, and the folks there seem to be doing this with broad strokes without really looking at the ramifications of those cuts.

Eliminating teacher assistants will have a negative effect — in some cases dramatically so — in the classrooms, hurting students.

The Senate leadership likes to counter with a smoke-and-mirror argument that they are actually trying to enhance education by eliminating nearly 7,000 fulltime teaching assistant jobs while providing funding for 3,000 more fulltime teachers.

Sounds okay in theory, but in reality that little trade simply doesn’t work. Smaller school systems, such as Mount Airy and Surry County, will be losing dozens, if not hundreds, of teaching assistants while probably gaining funding for only a handful of those new teaching jobs since most will go to the larger school systems.

Even worse, and we believe the Senate knows this, many school systems won’t be able to take advantage of funding for new teachers because there’s no more classroom space available. Unless we’re wanting to move trailers in and camp students there, many school systems simply don’t have room for any more classrooms.

So the Senate gets to claim it’s increasing funding for teachers knowing full well that at least a portion of that money won’t ever be spent, while area children end up paying for these political games.

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