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View from the Hill

The numbers behind the education budget cuts

CORRECTION — A previous version of this story said Leonardo Williams was the founder for the N.C. Foundation for Public School Children. Williams is actually the chairman of the foundation’s board of directors. The story also quoted Micah Beasley as saying “we must be beholden on state leadership to make up for the lack of resources.” Beasley actually said “it must be beholden on state leadership to make up for the lack of resources.” The story also said there was a nearly half-a-million dollar budget cut to education, when it was actually a nearly half-a-billion dollar budget cut. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the errors.

Educators and Democratic politicians alike are decrying the nearly half-a-billion dollar budget cut to education implemented by Gov. Pat McCrory and N.C General Assembly.

In a conference call on Thursday with the North Carolina Democratic Party, two educators expressed their dismay. Staff Writer Lindsay Carbonell was on the call and analyzed some of their remarks.

The two participants: Patsy Keever and Leonardo Williams.

Patsy Keever is a former state representative in the N.C. General Assembly, and is currently the vice chairwoman of the state party. She also has first-hand experience in the realm of education, serving as a teacher for 25 years.

“As a retired public school teacher I have never been more concerned about the state of public education in North Carolina,” she said on the call.

Leonardo Williams is a public school teacher in Durham County, chairman of the board of directors for the North Carolina Foundation for Public School Children, and band director of the Southern School of Energy & Sustainability in the city of Durham.

Williams emphasized the effect of budget cuts to arts departments in secondary schools. As a band director, Williams said his school’s funding has decreased from about $4,000 a year for instrument repair and music purchase to a little more than $1,600, and has gotten so tight that his band has to borrow instruments from other high schools.

“They (McCrory and the General Assembly Republicans) need to readjust their priorities and realize that they are setting up public education to fail,” he said on the call.

I called up the N.C. Republican Party to hear their opinion. A party spokesman said: “We have increased spending about $300 million more than last years’ budget, which is about a 4 percent increase.” This contrasts with the phrase “budget cut” altogether.

So, partisan politics aside, what is the reality of education funding in North Carolina?

Attached is a graph of how education funding has changed during the past nine years or so.

In this graph, “ADM” stands for “Average Daily Membership,” which is the number of days a student is a member of a school divided by the number of days in a school month or school year.

Pink bars represent state-funded education, while blue and green are federal. It is interesting to note that although ADM has been increasing, the total funding per ADM has decreased by $327.

And judging from the graph, there was a lot more state funding in the 2008-2009 administration for education. So what is the difference between then and now? 2009 to 2011 saw the crutches of federal funding to aid the lack of state money, but without those crutches, state Democratic party spokesman Micah Beasley said: “It must be beholden on state leadership to make up for lack of resources.”

So what about the “cut/increase” disparity? This is a difficult data point to analyze, because either party has the ability to do what is known as “The Baseline Bluff,” a political spin tactic that uses different numbers as baselines to determine other data.

In the case of the education budget numbers, The Transylvania Times explains this best:

“There was no $360 million increase in state K-12 funding by the 2012-13 General Assembly. Sen. Goolsby and his fellow Republicans are comparing different versions of the budget, using as their base line the original budgeted figures ($7.5 billion) for 2012-13, not the amount actually spent ($7.8 billion).”

Partisan politics? Partisan numbers? Maybe a little.

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