Budget cuts send message
As one of North Carolina’s low-wealth counties, Rowan has done better than might be expected when it comes to funding schools. Even so, educators and parents of school-aged children perpetually look to county leaders to do more, as they should. The day the community settles for the status quo is the day our public schools really will be in trouble.
Information compiled by the Public School Forum of North Carolina shows what an uphill struggle school funding is for many counties. The forum’s 2012 Local School Finance Study underscores the growing gap between the state’s wealthiest and poorest counties, a gap reflected in local per-pupil spending and student achievement levels.
The report ranks Rowan 53rd in property valuation per student and, after factoring in income levels, social service payments and other variables, 59th in “ability to pay.”
By comparison, the report ranks Rowan surprisingly high in actual local per-pupil funding to schools — 30th in 2012 with $1,658 per student, up from 33rd the year before. Thank you, county commissioners.
The methodology of the report is up for debate, but the figures back up commissioners’ insistence that they are not the “bad guys” when it comes to school funding. State budget cuts and expiring federal programs are largely to blame for the nearly $5 million gap the Rowan-Salisbury School System faces in the coming year.
Still, in light of those changes, cutting $250,000 from the county’s allocation to the schools suggests callous indifference to the schools’ plight. County Manager Gary Page reasons that enrollment is expected to go down 140 students, so local spending should decrease too. The schools are drowning, at no fault of the county’s — let’s throw them more water.
Rowan-Salisbury is not alone in asking for more money. The Cabarrus County schools are seeking an $8 million increase, Iredell-Statesville is asking for a $6 million increase, and Mooresville Graded School District wants an $86 million bond issue.
Unlike those other systems, though, Rowan-Salisbury is dealing with students from homes with smaller incomes and lower education levels in a community more removed from Charlotte’s growth and wealth. Rowan has a long, long way to go to shake the after-effects of the textile industry and the unskilled workforce it left behind. Only extraordinary effort will enable the county’s children to lift themselves up and join the 21st century workforce prepared and able. The push is bearing fruit; the graduation rate is the highest in a decade. But more remains to be done.
How much more can the schools be expected to do, though, when every level of government cuts funding? As a community, we turn to commissioners for a solution. The ruling triumvirate endorses another budget cut and wonders why they come off as the bad guys. Really? The only mystery is why they can’t see the answer themselves.