A little too close to home

Published 3:56 pm Monday, May 15, 2017

It’s budget time across North Carolina, from the smallest town to the $22.9 billion state budget passed by the Senate last week. Everyone is talking numbers — what gets funded, what gets cut, what does not.

As has been the trajectory over the last several years, it seems education is getting the short end of the stick once again—and in a very interesting way.

In the wee hours of Friday morning, frustrated by a series of Democrats’ amendments dragging the process out, a recess called and GOP leaders had a two-hour conference. On return to the session, Republicans proposed their own amendment, this one adding $1 million to combat the opioid epidemic. The vote on it was taken about a minute after the amendment was proposed. It’s likely that no one really read it — but no one was going to argue that there should be more funding to fight what has become a nationwide drug problem, effecting people from all walks of life.

However, what wasn’t realized is that $1 million is being supplied by cutting educational programs, specifically in District 3 which covers the northeastern North Carolina counties of Bertie, Chowan, Edgecombe, Hertford, Martin, Northampton, Tyrrell and Washington counties.

In the amendment, Democratic Senator Erica Smith-Ingram’s district lost $314,646 in funding from two early college high schools in Northampton and Washington counties; another $180,000 was stripped from Eastern North Carolina STEM, a summer science, math and technology program also in Northampton county. Seven counties were removed from a program that financially assists teacher assistants working on getting their teaching licenses — those counties were in Smith-Ingram’s district and that of Senator Angela Bryant, also a Democrat whose constituents are in Halifax, Nash, Vance, Warren and Wilson counties.

Obviously, to make that million mark other things were cut: from a food program, N.C. Museum of Art staffing and a downtown revitalization program.

It seems a little drastic to target education in some of the poorest and most rural counties in the state, though education was targeted elsewhere in the proposed senate budget. This budget also guts funding for the North Carolina Governor’s School, a summer residential program for the academically gifted.

“To cut funding from this program would not only be unjust and unwarranted, but it would in fact be doing a massive disservice to all of the students in the state of North Carolina,” wrote Latrell Broughton, from Beaufort County (Class of 2013), in a letter to legislators supporting Governor’s School. “It would be depriving them of a life-changing opportunity, an opportunity to grow exponentially, an opportunity to expand their minds and pursue their interests, and most of all, the opportunity for them to be their true selves, without fear of being judged.”

Education funding is not just about teacher pay. It’s about opportunity. It’s unfortunate that the Senate chose to decrease the opportunities available to eastern North Carolina children — it hits a little too close to home.