By John Dornan
The education budget proposed by Gov. Mike Easley has earned praise, albeit faint, from most in North Carolina’s K-12 school community.
The praise, however, is not so much for what the governor proposed as for the budget cuts he did not make.
For K-12 schools, the cuts made in the last legislative session, coupled with those proposed for this session, are being felt and will be felt even more by the time school opens in August.
They could not be coming at a worse time.
After a decade of good news about measurable progress at the K-12 level, the impact of the federal government’s “no-child-left-behind” legislation will cause shock waves from one end of the state to the other when this year’s test scores are released.
The state Department of Public Instruction estimates that more than 1,000 of North Carolina’s 2,200 schools will be labeled as “needs improvement” under the new federal legislation.
That legislation also imposes harsh consequences for 1,074 of North Carolina’s 2,200 schools that are classified as Title I schools because 40 percent or more of their students are eligible for federal free and reduced-lunch programs because of low parental income.
For states, the new law imposes new responsibilities but little additional support.
North Carolina, for example, will face federal mandates to provide assistance to hundreds of “needs Improvement” schools.
The state also is responsible for monitoring whether teachers, teacher assistants and teacher-training materials meet new federal standards.
And last year’s cuts, coupled with new proposed cuts, are causing cutbacks in local programs aimed at students most likely not to meet the new federal standards, including those in summer-school, tutorial and after-school programs.
While Governor Easley is to be commended for delaying proposed tax cuts that would worsen the state’s fiscal situation, this year’s budget only delays the inevitable.
Unless North Carolina wants to sacrifice a decade of measurable and dramatic educational progress, it cannot retreat at the moment the state’s schools are confronted with the largest challenge in their history – meeting the rigorous demands of the No Child Left Behind legislation. And the moment is now.
John Dornan is president of the Public School Forum of North Carolina.