Study: Cuts threaten schools

Nov. 06, 2013 @ 11:16 AM

The North Carolina Justice Center released a study Monday warning that a decrease in public education spending jeopardizes gains in future student performance and the future economy. 

According to the report, for the fiscal year that began July 1, total spending for K-12 education is $563 million less than it was six years ago when adjusted for inflation. The per-student investment is $653 fewer than compared to six years ago when adjusted for inflation, though there are 48,000 more students statewide than compared to six years ago. 

“The state’s new direction raises concerns about what the failure to invest in public education means for future student performance,” Cedric Johnson and Matthew Ellinwood with the North Carolina Justice Center wrote in the report. “Though many who have supported the state’s reduced commitment to public education claim that the level of spending has no impact on improving student achievement, the reality is that while spending along cannot guarantee success, widespread increased performance is not possible without such investment.” 

Johnson is a policy analyst with the Budget and Tax Center and Ellinwood is a policy analyst with the Education and Law Project, both are projects of the North Carolina Justice Center. 

The report recommends focusing spending on what it designates the areas that have been proven to have the greatest impact–early childhood education, teacher development, smaller classes and extended instructional learning time. 

According to the report, for every tax dollar invested in quality child care and early education, taxpayers can save up to $13 in future costs. The reports cited research showing that quality pre-kindergarten can increase a child’s performance in the early school grades and boost high school graduation rates, improve chances of landing a job later in life and reduce criminal behavior among other things. 

Rep. Craig Horn, R-68, said the General Assembly moved early education out of the education budget to the health and human services budget. He could not speak to any recent cuts to NC Pre-K since much of the debate took place in the health and human services budget and he chairs the appropriations subcommittee on education. 

“From my standpoint, I happen to feel that early education needs to move back to the education budget,” Horn said. 

Horn said that early education funding has been a “challenge” for the assembly because there has been little data showing that the gains children make are sustained after fourth grade. He said research shows that after fourth grade there is no measurable difference between students who were involved in early education and students who were not. 

“That’s been by and large the accepted position,” Horn said. “I think that whole concept needs to be revisited.”..it doesn’t make practical sense...practical sense says that the more prepared we can make our students going in, the better student we get coming out.” 

Horn said that early childhood education is heavily influence by economics

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and many children come from economically-disadvantaged families. He said he thinks that if they focus the measurements on children from low-income families instead of all children regardless of economic situation, they could see different results with improvement between the two cohorts. 

“I went into the early education area with the preconceived idea that early education had turned into nothing more than babysitting,” Horn said. He said he no longer believes that. 

The report also notes smaller class sizes and their role in student performance. 

“Smaller class sizes benefit all students and help close some of the gaps in learning between students from different economic and social backgrounds, according to studies on the relationship between class size and student and achievement,” it read. 

The report includes teacher quality as an area where there should be targeted spending. It discussed an increased turnover rate among teachers and the lack of competitive salary for teachers in the state compared to neighboring states.

Horn was not familiar with the North Carolina Justice Center report.

However, when asked about the report’s assertion that a decrease in spending could lead to a decrease in student achievement, Horn said, “I tend to believe that will happen and I’m hopeful that we can come up with an approach that we can afford and can implement to thwart that eventuality.”

“I think we can,” Horn said. “I’m reasonably confident that we’re going to have substantive improvement in expanding education funding in the coming short session.”