Extension of 1-cent sales tax needed, educators say
by Tori Hamby
A coalition composed of several state and local education advocate organizations has one message for N.C legislators voting on next year’s public education budget in the upcoming weeks: give us the pennies.
“The quality of our children’s education is worth a penny — a penny that we are already paying,” said N.C. School Board Association president and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools board member Joe “Coach” White. The association is one of 40 organizations lobbying the state legislature through the Quality Schools Coalition to extend a statewide 1-cent sales tax used to help fund public education.
“It’s not a new tax; it’s not anybody breaking their word to taxpayers,” White said. “It’s not something that people don’t already experience everyday. I guess you could say it is a compromise.”
Trouble began earlier this month when the N.C. House of Representatives voted 72-47 to pass their $19.3 billion budget proposal, which did not include an extension of the penny sales tax, set to expire June 30, that generates about $1.1 billion in state revenue each year. The House decided to allocate $7.16 billion to schools — a 9 percent cut in funding from last year, meaning the state could be forced to slash at least 11,750 public education positions.
In Union County, the House version cuts funding for new textbooks by 80 percent and bars the Board of Education from adopting any new editions until July 1, 2013, at the earliest. There would be a 48 percent cut in state funded teacher’s assistant positions.
Meanwhile, the Senate is discussing their own budget proposal, which tentatively includes $106 million less in public education funds than the House’s budget. Both budget outlooks serve as grim omens to school districts facing multi-million budget shortfalls.
Luan Ingram, Union County Public Schools communications officer, said about 50 parents have signed-up to visit Raleigh on Tuesday, May 24, where they plan to speak with legislators and urge them to extend the tax.
“If I spent $200 in Union County this week, then only $2 would be used for the penny sales tax,” said Remona Griffin, a Union County parent who plans to make the trip. “My kids are worth two bucks.”
As it stands, the county says it plans to allocate roughly $79.5 million to the school district, the same funding level as in the current year’s budget. That would include a $2.5 million cut, involving an 11 percent drop in central services staff, a 2 percent cut in maintenance, 6 percent drop in furniture and equipment and a 60 percent cut in funding for media assistants.
Like Union County Schools, many districts around the state will be looking to the legislature to help offset spending cuts made in recent years. However, Republican majorities in both legislative chambers have expressed their commitment toward lowering spending and allowing the penny sales tax increase to expire.
“We’ve had several meetings with parents and they’ve had no problem whatsoever saying that they would support the penny sales tax,” said Union County Schools Board of Education member Marce Savage.
“We need to do everything possible to preserve teachers and the quality of education,” Griffin said, adding that parents need to make their voices heard in Raleigh as well.
“Legislators need to hear from parents,” Griffin said. “Teachers and school boards have gone to Raleigh, but all that looks like is that they are trying to save their jobs. Most of us don’t have a dog in that fight as far as jobs go, but that penny affects our kids as well.”
The legislature approved the penny-increase in 2009, when financial burdens stemming from the recession forced lawmakers to find alternate sources of revenue in order to close the budget gap. The move raised the minimum sales tax percentage that consumers must pay on purchases to 7.75 percent.
White said that it is difficult to speculate how many jobs could be saved by the tax extension because lawmakers would still have to determine how much of each penny would be budgeted toward public education.
“Right now, we are focusing on just saving the tax,” White said. “Any part of it would certainly save jobs.”