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I am a fan of maximizing flexibility for school districts. Over the last five years, the Republican-led General Assembly has done an admirable job of increasing local control. School calendar flexibility was the one notable exception.

That is why the decision to limit the use of teacher assistant funds irks me.

In the past, districts could (and did) use their teacher assistant funds for any number of expenditures. The 2015-17 budget requires school districts to use teacher assistant funds for teacher assistants only. I believe that decisions regarding funding levels for teacher assistants are best left to school boards and administrators.

That said, when teacher assistant funding was on the line, we heard many complaints about teacher assistant layoffs and their incredible value to the classroom. Yet, some districts now admit that they routinely diverted millions of dollars from their teacher assistant allotment to pay for teaching positions. That is ironic considering that public school officials and their allies complained that the NC Senate budget would have shifted teacher assistant dollars to pay for teaching positions.

The rhetoric? Districts championed teacher assistant funding and argued that the presence of every single one of them in the classroom was essential.

The reality? Districts sent millions of TA dollars elsewhere, suggesting that the value of teacher assistants was limited.

I believe that school boards should have the ability to use teacher assistant funding to support classroom teacher positions. But they should also be upfront about it. Instead, they found out the hard way, perhaps unfairly, that hyperbole has consequences.

Dr. Terry Stoops

Dr. Terry Stoops is Director of Research and Education Studies for the John Locke Foundation.