N&O fact check: Legislature adds money for teachers

FROM STAFF REPORTSMarch 20, 2012 

N&O Fact Check

Television ad: “The new legislature balanced the budget, they cut waste, lowered taxes – they even added state funding for 2,000 more teachers.”

Sponsor: Americans for Prosperity Foundation

Claim: The Republican-led legislature added state funding for 2,000 more teachers.

Context: The TV spot is paid for by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a nonprofit arm of the conservative political group Americans for Prosperity, which helped elect the GOP legislative majority in North Carolina. The group is seeking to counter Democrats and liberal advocacy organizations who are criticizing Republicans for cutting education funding in the state budget.

What the record shows: In fiscal year 2011, which ended last June, there were 94,879 full-time teachers in the state, according to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, which surveyed local school districts. The state budget written by the legislature’s then-Democratic majority paid 78,963 teachers with state money and 11,443 with federal money. The other 4,473 teachers were paid with local funds.

In fiscal year 2012, which ends June 30, there are 93,964 teachers in the state, the data shows. The state budget, written by Republican lawmakers, pays 81,020 teachers with state money and 8,791 with federal money. Another 4,153 teachers are paid with local funds.

The difference is how the teachers were paid – whether with state or federal money. In fiscal year 2011, Democrats used temporary federal money to pay some teachers. The money was designed to supplant state funding amid the economic downturn. With the money exhausted, Republicans used state money to pay teachers. So the GOP budget includes 2,057 more state-funded teachers – the number at the heart of the TV ad.

But overall, the number of teachers in North Carolina fell by 915 this year, a point the TV ad doesn’t make. How did this happen? The extra state money for teachers didn’t cover the loss of the federal money, which paid for 2,652 teachers.

In addition, the GOP state budget required local school districts to collectively send back to the state $429 million – effectively a reduction in state funding. The state budget gave local districts discretion on how to make the cuts and some districts eliminated teachers.

Ruling: The ad is true – as far as it goes. The ad’s claim that the budget added 2,000 more state-funded teachers doesn’t represent the whole picture. In the end, the number of teachers in the state decreased this school year by about 1 percent. The ad could leave viewers with a false impression.

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