N.C. Senate leaders say they’re willing, in their budget, to restore funding for teacher assistants. That’s money Senate Republicans had planned to use to hire more teachers to reduce class sizes.
In theory, that news should make school leaders everywhere happy, but we doubt very much that it does. That’s because Senate leaders attached a string to their proposal: They’ll restore funding for teacher assistants, but schools will have to spend the money on teacher assistants only.
If you think Johnston Superintendent Ed Croom would be thrilled to hear that, we suspect you would be wrong. That’s because Johnston doesn’t use all of its teacher assistant dollars to employ teacher assistants. This year, for example, the Johnston schools are diverting $500,000 in teacher assistant dollars to transportation needs. If N.C. House leaders agree to the Senate proposal, Dr. Croom will have to find that $500,000 for transportation needs elsewhere.
Maybe that would be a good thing; maybe it wouldn’t.
Many years ago now, state lawmakers gave school systems greater say in how they spend state dollars. We think that was a wise move, because local school systems know their spending needs better than lawmakers meeting in Raleigh. That’s another way of saying that if Dr. Croom thinks it’s best to spend teacher assistant dollars on transportation needs, then we’re fine with that.
What we’re not fine with is ignoring facts to fit a political agenda. When the N.C. Senate said it would cut teacher assistant funding in favor of more classroom teachers, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth, with critics pointing out the thousands of teacher assistants who would lose their jobs. But the truth of the matter is that North Carolina has nowhere near the cited number of teacher assistants on the job today. Some of those teacher assistant dollars are meeting other school needs, and they have been for years.
We’ll concede that North Carolina no longer has the number of teacher assistants it once had; years ago, for example every K-3 classroom teacher had an assistant. But while the General Assembly might yet cut funding for assistants, the ranks of North Carolina’s unemployed won’t swell with jobless teacher assistants. Many of those jobs disappeared years ago, and critics of the General Assembly should stop pretending otherwise.