In recent weeks, the debate over state funding of education has taken center stage, not just in Surry County but all across North Carolina.
In that debate quite a bit of anger and frustration has been directed at the General Assembly for its supposed lack of support for public education, most specifically for its practice of granting a certain figure to school systems each year, only to require part of that be given back, a practice the state calls discretionary reversion.
Rep. Sarah Stevens, a Mount Airy Republican in the North Carolina 90th House of Representatives, said in an interview yesterday that it is time for school administrators across the state to stop complaining about the budget and to start working with state officials to help tighten spending practices.
In large part Stevens is correct. North Carolina is in desperate financial straits, as are many states around the nation. Whether one subscribes to the theory that is mostly self-inflicted after years of irresponsible spending and budgeting, or one believes the recession is to blame (or perhaps both factors), the reality is there’s not as much public money today as there was, say, five years ago.
Stevens rightly points out virtually all parts of state government have seen funding cuts, and the school systems should expect to be no different. To call a state official (or candidate) pro education simply because he or she believes in throwing money at school systems is inaccurate, just as saying someone does not support education because they believe in holding the line on spending is wrong.
What many school officials most take issue with, however, is this discretionary reversion. It is wrong, and blatantly unethical, to approve a budget with a certain amount of money set aside for education (or any other department), and then require that department give part of the money back. What makes the practice most galling is that many of the legislators who approve such practices will brag in their districts about funding education at the higher levels, while quietly utilizing the money taken back to balance the budget. At best this is poor budgeting, at worst it’s simply dishonest (and if practiced by those in the private business world likely to land one on the wrong end of a criminal probe).
What would be best for legislators to do is simply stand up and say where education ranks on their lists of priorities, then do their best to fund school systems based on that prioritization. No shell games, no giving and then taking back.
Funding education in this manner might not be easy, but at least it’s honest.