Republicans in the General Assembly don’t like the Department of Public Instruction, particularly because it’s headed by a Democrat, June Atkinson. But GOP budget cuts have taken the DPI to the bone, and the agency’s suggestion to move money from the Excellent Public Schools Act, which includes a reading program as a major facet, to pay for administrative costs has caused a bit of a political firestorm.
It comes down to Republicans, including Phil Berger, president pro tem of the state Senate, claiming that Atkinson and her agency want to take money out of classroom programs to pay for bureaucrats. DPI officials counter that budget cuts have hurt their ability to oversee schools.
They have a good point. It’s fine to have reading programs, for example, but they have to be run. They have to be supervised. They create overhead that has to be paid for. It’s easy enough to blast all bureaucrats as seat-warming paper pushers, but they’re not. They have to direct programs. They have to get personnel. They have to see that the programs are working.
Atkinson hasn’t pulled some kind of back-door maneuver here, either. All of the proposals to move some money into administrative costs have been above board and have gone through the normal approval process from the state budget director. The Office of Management and Budget hasn’t approved DPI’s request to shift money – so it’s not going to be shifted.
The controversy is of Republican making. Slicing huge chunks out of the DPI budget might sound harmless enough, but it can hurt schools by lessening oversight. GOP leaders don’t consult state education officials when they ponder budget cuts, they just do it. And they do it because their support for public schools is decidedly lukewarm.
It’s understandable, then, why DPI would be subject to excessive budget cuts with little concern from those holding the knives as to what the consequences of such cuts are.
This storm over DPI’s wish to move a relatively small amount of funding from a program to administrative costs is a tempest in a Republican teapot. Fair-mined negotiations could solve the whole issue.