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Let’s not just get angry about the state budget, let’s get it right

As the legislative logjam starts to break and the state budget begins to emerge after a month in the murky depths, we have to thank scores of local leaders and media outlets for their efforts.

They’ve shared compelling stories about the impact of this year’s budget delay on public education—full of frustration about how delayed funding decisions can undermine a school’s ability to educate our children. The combined news coverage has helped get things rolling again.

We hope things will roll in the right direction, and in that spirit, let’s also remind lawmakers of some time-sensitive and high priority issues that are less well-known, but affect thousands of parents and their children across the state.

What will they do with the kids between 3 and 6pm?

Working parents of children ages 6-12 need to know whether or not they will have access to affordable child care when school starts in just a few days. The House included a provision to restore eligibility for school-age kids and to restore the prorated copayment for partial-day care, but these provisions weren’t included in the Senate budget. Every month that goes by with no resolution, more kids lose after-school child care.

Will they be able to get their four-year olds into pre-K?

Access to pre-kindergarten makes children much more likely to succeed in school. But budget limbo has caused many counties to leave pre-k slots empty because there are funding differences between the House and the Senate that need to be resolved. $5 million of funding for NC pre-K expired at the end of June—the House budget replaces these expiring funds, but the Senate budget would only restore half the money, which would allow 520 pre-k slots to expire. In the meantime, hundreds of slots remain unfilled while four-year-olds lose out on an opportunity to kickstart their education.

How will teens learn to drive, and when? What will it cost?

The House budget maintains the state’s driver education program, but the Senate budget eliminates the requirement for driver education, defunds it and moves it to the community college system. The community college system has unequivocally stated that it doesn’t want the program. The uncertainty has forced some districts to cancel their summer driver ed classes at a time when many students typically do the bulk of their driver training. In other cases, districts are charging families the full cost of providing driver’s ed, as much as $350 or more.

Will my child’s class have enough “eyes and hands on the job”?

It’s been well documented across the state that school districts are laying off teacher assistants because the positions are funded in the House budget, but not the Senate budget. The House budget funds TAs at the same level as last year; the Senate budget would eliminate more than 8,500 teacher assistant jobs statewide over the next two years.

Until the Senate and House reach agreement about the $224 million difference between their TA funding proposals, more districts will be forced to lay off helping hands in the classroom.

How long can this go on?

Just a week ago, some lawmakers were talking about continuing the temporary budget extension all the way until January, leaving many children, families, and school districts in the lurch. Earlier this week, however, the House and Senate agreed on a two-week extension to negotiate a final budget deal.

Let’s hope they can do that and let’s hope that the final deal does right by kids. After all, a bad deal now isn’t any better than no deal at all.

Legislators who are not part of the process are frustrated and can’t do much about it, according to various news reports. Adding your voice to the chorus might give them some ammo.  

One more log on the fire might cast enough light that legislators can see their way to do the right thing before Christmas.

Michelle Hughes

Michelle Hughes is the executive director of NC Child and has worked in the field of children’s advocacy for almost 20 years in North Carolina.