What a difference a trip home or a few phone calls can make. Although some state senators are saying their diligent negotiations with the N.C. House brought forth a compromise that will reverse the high – and misguided – chamber’s budget plans to cut driver’s education and teaching assistants, it’s likely those “hot button” issues struck a sour chord with the folks back home.
Senate budget writers were sticking by their stubborn position to cut driver’s ed and TAs, which would hit home for tens of thousands of North Carolina families, and they brought the House to heel on a total budget amount several hundred millions dollars under what House Speaker Tim Moore and his Republican majority wanted.
But now Senate budget writers say OK, they’ll fund the TAs and driver’s education. They’ve added the petty requirement that school districts not be allowed to use unneeded money for teacher assistants to hire full-time teachers. That’s a ridiculous caveat, but taking power away from local boards is nothing new for the legislative leadership.
Still, preserving the vital help teacher assistants provide and certainly maintaining driver’s education are important compromises, whatever the reasons for them.
Having help for teachers in classrooms with the youngest students is a necessity, not an extra, for effective education. One assistant can make a difference in success or failure for a child. An assistant can spot problems at home or have quiet time with a troubled child to talk things over. And teachers are sometimes buried in bureaucratic paperwork that is unavoidable.
Cutting assistants would have harmed the quality of instruction in ways great and small. And such a move might well have driven promising young teachers to other jobs, given that they are underpaid anyway.
As for driver’s ed, it’s been a mainstay for North Carolina for decades, and it is an important factor in making roads and highways safer. To do away with it would have left the task to community colleges, where fees would have been higher, thus eliminating driver’s ed for those youngsters from lower-income homes.
Organized classroom and in-the-car instruction makes for better and safer drivers. Cutting that out of the state budget was driven by the hard-line, cut-taxes ideology of Senate leaders, who often have acted without consideration of the human consequences of their budget-cutting. And a time of economic recovery, when the state has surplus revenue, is the time not just to preserve valuable programs but to invest in public education.