3,200 UNC System employees lose their jobs under the budget that currently sits on Governor Perdue's desk.
Backers of the budget cuts argue that at a time where unemployment is at near record levels and the state is facing a 3 billion dollar deficit cuts need to be made. By slashing education and other vital public institutions instead of keeping the current sales tax level, the legislature claims to be protecting economic development in NC. They fail to recognize the fundamental role education plays in economic development.
I spent 17 years in North Carolina’s public education system, during which I was lucky enough to attend some of the best public schools anywhere. Decades of investment and commitment to education have paid great dividends as we boast the finest University system and have primary and secondary schools capable of competing with any in the country. Having a well-educated workforce is critical in our technology based economy and it is no coincidence that NC is consistently ranked one of the best places for business. (http://www.wwaytv3.com/nc_ranked_second_best_business_climate/07/2008)
There is also a darker side; underpaid teachers struggling to keep at-risk students close to grade level in dilapidated schools that lack the funding for new textbooks, let alone the technology that every student needs to be successful in our global economy.
We shouldn’t abandon these students; we need to come to their aid. Public education is the foundation of the community we've built in Chapel Hill and North Carolina. Education is great equalizer, giving marginalized and underprivileged citizens the skills and knowledge to become whomever they want. Education gives hope to the hopeless. I get discouraged when the debate centers around how many school employees we should fire when the question every year should be how many are we going to hire?
Current projections show that Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools will lose a combined 8 million dollars in funding next year. While we are fortunate to have two of the best school districts in the state, we still have students falling behind. At Efland Cheeks Elementary only 53% of 3rd graders scored at grade level on End-Of-Grade reading exams, compared with 66% statewide (http://www.ncschoolreportcards.com/src/schDetails.jsp?Page=2&pSchCode=324&pLEACode=680&pYear=2009-2010). I won’t say that test scores are all that matter, but they do help illustrate the problems that plague our schools. I firmly believe that in a Country and a County of relative wealth we cannot accept half of our students failing to read at grade level.
Public education is under assault at the state and local level. Current proposals threaten to put us on the path backwards, to a time when only the privileged had an opportunity at a good education. Now is the time to fight back, to stop the bleeding in our schools and continue building institutions that will empower future generations.
State politics has never been more local than it is now. Governor Perdue, please veto this budget for the sake of Orange County.