There’s the famous story about the frog and hot water. If you throw a frog into a pot of boiling water, he will quickly jump out. But if you put the frog in a pot of cold water and then slowly heat it, the frog will sit there until he’s cooked, literally.
North Carolinians may think they have avoided hot water after last year’s budget cuts. Schools opened on time. Teachers showed up and taught. The crime rate continued to decline. The mental hospitals are still open. There are no zombies in the streets.
Don’t be fooled. Government payrolls were cut, and most observers find that the cutbacks raised the state’s unemployment rate by about a percentage point. The verdict is still out on a realistic number of government jobs lost and workers tossed into unemployment lines.
But hey, it’s a recession and the Republicans promised to cut the budget and they did. Promise kept.
The water may not be boiling, but there is reason to check the temperature, especially on public schools.
Republican leaders have not shown the interest in public schools as in the past. They talk more about expanding the number of charter schools and offering tax credits to help families who send their children to private schools.
The legislature actually reduced early education funds and made it more difficult for poor children to enroll in programs like the defunct More at Four.
In 1978, California adopted a drastic property tax cut called Proposition 13. It reduced local revenues to public schools, and an accompanying constitutional amendment required a super majority vote on any state tax increase.
School monies dropped and California has been struggling since to make up revenues, mostly with state appropriations. Spending per pupil has gone from 7th to 44th in the country. School spending overall is near a 40-year low. The reputation of the state’s public schools has slunk from among the fines to mediocre.
California’s school decline did not happen over night, and neither will North Carolina’s. Even though revenues are slightly up as the legislature approaches the May short session, Republicans continue to look for spending cuts. A recent legislative study committee proposed closing state parks for the winter and turning over the state zoo to private operators.
(Those last two probably were teasers, just to scare the nervous Nellies and make the Republican legislators appear generous when the proposals are rejected.)
But the pot is getting hotter, and Republican legislative leaders are not talking about turning down the temperature. Friends of public schools need to watch that pot.