05/28/09 — Threat of cuts: Education budget cuts reason to be concerned about N.C. future

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Threat of cuts: Education budget cuts reason to be concerned about N.C. future

They claim they aren't fooling around -- and given the ever-changing North Carolina budget shortfall, which is topping $4.6 billion this week, they probably have reason.

House leaders are making some pretty tough predictions about what is going to be necessary if this state is going to even come close to having the money it needs to function in the next fiscal year.

And that means some near draconian cuts to the education budget, which will translate to losing even more teachers than have already been laid off and even more positions remaining unfilled in the state's schools.

That does not even include the hits that have been projected for early education and other programs designed to increase the likelihood that a child will have the skills necessary to succeed in school.

And that should scare anyone who not only has a child or grandchild in school, but also anyone who is charged with plotting North Carolina's future.

Let's face it -- there are already too many children who need extra help, extra attention, extra push to get them to graduation day. Just look at the numbers. Adding a couple of extra children to the rolls might seem a minor sacrifice, but there are consequences, especially in programs where large numbers mean less attention, less time.

Many schools are already stretched to the breaking point just to stay ahead of the paperwork, the curriculum plans, classroom demands and the behavior and socioeconomic issues that are affecting teacher time and student performance.

While many have already trimmed as best they can, there might not be enough left to cut -- and still be able to operate a quality education program.

North Carolina is at a critical juncture. Education is an area that needs attention, desperately, and to take such a big step backward would have severe consequences -- especially in a state that has to convince the government to keep military bases open.

Now, this does not mean there are not places to cut in the education budget. The new, extra school czar and a $170,000 North Carolina State University professorship come to mind. Looking hard for services that can be curbed is a responsible decision.

But before cuts start being made willy nilly, leaders and citizens need to think about the consequences and what their priorities are in the face of mounting fiscal concerns.

And while we are at it, perhaps someone could explain why a $2 billion deficit has bloomed to $4.6 billion -- and counting. How could so many people be so wrong about what this state will need to fund a 2009-10 fiscal year budget?

Someone in Raleigh needs to get a definitive analysis and tell taxpayers what the real story is -- before another surprise comes down the pike.

Without reliable information, it will be very difficult for citizens to make the decision about where they want their money to go -- and if they are interested in coming up with more to keep certain services.

And perhaps that stimulus money needs another look, too. Maybe investing more of it in our children's future might be a better idea than more bricks and mortar.

It's certainly worth considering.

Published in Editorials on May 28, 2009 11:03 AM