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A yes or no please: Has the state school budget been cut?

schoolsDemocratic candidates who pledge to fight for more education funding could resonate with parents witnessing the impacts of the funding shortfall in Haywood Schools. Or those voters could likewise be turned off by candidates making political hay over the issue.

Or they could just end up confused.

While Democrats blamed Republican lawmakers for cutting the education budget, Republicans say they have actually increased education funding over the past four years they’ve been in control.

“Those who say we’ve cut the budget, ask them when we cut it and where we cut it,” said N.C. Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin. “If you want to have a debate on whether we are spending enough on education, that is a different debate. But to say we have cut it is a downright lie.” 

Anyone with a student in the school system knows otherwise, countered Jane Hipps, a Waynesville Democrat running against Davis.

“No matter how you spin the numbers, our public schools are operating on shoestring budgets,” said Hipps.

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Indeed, parents who see firsthand the larger classes, older textbooks and fewer aids these days are left scratching their heads over the claim that there’s more money going around.

Voters were equally dazed and confused in the last state election, as those on both sides of the aisle armed themselves with flip charts and bar graphs proving their case that school funding had indeed been cut, or conversely, been increased.

Can both be true? They are, in a way.

The state public education budget has indeed gone up — from $7.7 billion to $8.6 billion between 2011 and 2015, the four-year reign of Republicans in Raleigh.

But it’s an optical illusion, and one that exists on paper only.

The budget increase was primarily sucked up by teacher raises and higher benefit costs, plus non-classroom initiatives like school security or psychological counseling.

The increased spending didn’t go to the nuts-and-bolts of education itself, according to an analysis by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

While raises for teachers pumped up the bottom-line in the state education budget, actual classroom funding per student fell as it failed to keep up with the growing student body statewide.

“As a result, districts have had to accomplish more with less money per student,” according to the DPI analysis.

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