The following is a column by Mark Shiver, host of the “What Matters in North Carolina” podcast.
Big headlines and lengthy stories declare, “Lawmakers have failed to provide the funding necessary to allow districts to meet the class size goals.” Stop reading there and you might be led to believe that the NC General Assembly purposely and with malicious intent has looked at the class-size goals and merely ignored the financial needs attached to those goals.
There is only one problem. The class size goals are for the 2017-18 school year, and the budget has not even been introduced by the General Assembly, much less passed with a “failure to provide funding.” Leftists are now attacking lawmakers for things that do not yet exist.
A lot has been in the news of late regarding recent legislation affecting class size maximums in grades K-3. The law reduces the maximum size and could require school districts to hire more teachers to accommodate the larger number of smaller classes. Dramatic headlines warn of the potential elimination of art, physical education and other classes.
Yes, these are concerns, but to scream, “Lawmakers have failed to provide the funding necessary to allow districts to meet the class size goals!” is disingenuous and seemingly intentionally misleading. Again, the budget process is progressing through the General Assembly, with Gov. Roy Cooper having presented his proposed budget only a few weeks ago.
In fact, Cooper’s is the only proposed budget that has been released so far. Crafting the state budget is a process. (See Building a State Budget for an in-depth explanation of the budget process). Tax Day is April 18 this year, so lawmakers will shortly thereafter have the actual revenue numbers based on the filing of tax returns. The Senate will likely soon thereafter release its proposed budget. The House will release its spending plan, back and forth negotiation between the Senate and the House will take place, and eventually a budget will be passed.
The point is that headlines or articles that accuse lawmakers of failing to provide funding for increased class size goals is premature. The class-size issue affects the 2017-18 school year, which has not even started. School districts are going through their own budget processes and cycles and they do have to make projections as to what their needs will be.
It is possible that these emotion-themed assertions by some on the Left, like the NC Justice Center, are intended to motivate the NC Senate to pass House Bill 13, filed by Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson), which adds flexibility to the class size maximums and may ameliorate the financial challenges.
But these pre-budget scenarios are not new. Department of Transportation planners may know they have a need for a certain number of roads, but are not yet sure of how much money they will have to deal with. School districts also always have to plan in advance, and sometimes those plans precede the actual budget numbers that they must work with.
Crying that funding has not occurred to keep pace with a legislative mandate, before funding is even proposed or passed, seems like another leftist scheme to stoke emotions against the General Assembly.