The General Assembly recently completed one of the most difficult and disappointing sessions I have been a part of during my time in the North Carolina House of Representatives. I and others will note it as one of the most regressive in memory. The GOP-led legislature continued its drive to defund public education. They turned control of our natural gas resources over to industry without regard for people’s personal property rights. They dismantled our municipalities and their ability to grow smartly. And through it all, despite the drumbeat of misguided rhetoric to justify bad decisions — such as a $140 million tax break for the wealthy — this economy continues to falter, and our unemployment rate has tumbled to fourth-worst in the nation.
Our state budget for the coming years creates an additional deficit for our schools of $190 million, while enrollment just this year will grow by 11,300. The two-year total in school funding cuts has reached $620 million. That’s a difficult number to put into perspective for many of us, but it is roughly equivalent to the annual budget for the Guilford County school system, a system that has 73,000 students and 10,000 employees. It is a cut that significantly harms our ability to deliver a quality education to our students and, going forward, means a less prepared workforce to help support small businesses or new industries.
Community colleges were forced to cut $65 million from their budgets while simultaneously pushing tuition increases of 23 percent over the past two years onto already struggling students looking for opportunity. At the same time, a majority overrode the governor’s veto of a bill that limited access to federal financial aid for community college students. Our universities took a $414 million reduction and increased tuition 10 percent while at the same time more than $20 million in financial aid was eliminated.
In the past year, more than 6,000 educators in just K-12 schools have been fired from their jobs. These are real people losing real jobs in our schools, leaving behind crowded classrooms and less individual instruction. The university system eliminated 3,000 positions, including nearly 500 full-time jobs. Their absence is felt whenever a student needs one last class to graduate and there is no professor to teach it or when a graduating senior needs career guidance no one can provide.
Speaker Tillis said casually during a recent press conference that he expected this year’s budget to result in at least 3,000 more teacher layoffs. That would bring the documented number of lost jobs to at least 12,000 just in public schools and universities during a time when our population continues to grow.
“This is our economy,” Speaker Tillis said during that same press conference. “This is our budget.”
An unemployment rate that is fourth-worst in the nation. That is the Republican economy. At least 12,000 educators out of work. Higher tuition for our students. Less access to financial aid. Tax breaks for the rich. That is the Republican budget.
Rep. Joe Hackney is the minority leader in the NC House of Representatives and represents Orange, Chatham and Moore counties. He was Speaker of the House from 2007-2010.