The new "Fund Schools First" coalition held a news conference on Wednesday in Raleigh urging state lawmakers to avoid further spending cuts and restore $225 million in reductions local districts had to make this year. Most of those cuts came by eliminating teachers and teacher assistants. There are about 95,000 teachers and 27,000 assistants statewide.
"We plead with our General Assembly members to fund schools first," said State Superintendent June Atkinson.
Fund Schools First pointed out that North Carolina recently got an F from Education Week for school spending - ranking it amongst the lowest in the country. The group says that's one reason the state recently lost out on Race to the Top federal grant money for education.
The budget-adjustment session begins next month.
North Carolina Association of Educators President Sheri Strickland estimated that eliminated positions could grow to 7,000 when the second year of the budget is implemented July 1 with additional cuts.
She supports specific tax increases to help close the budget gap.
"When we look at a nickel on beer tax, when we look at raising the tobacco tax to the national average, and closing corporate loopholes, we get to about $850 million. [Then] we will be getting close to the $1billion that it's estimated we'll be short this coming year," she said.
In Wake County, leaders are already making cuts to central services and support staff. New textbooks aren't even being considered for next year. Now that expected cuts have jumped from $20 million to $40 million, teachers and assistants are worried about their jobs.
Education leaders say when public schools suffer, then the state suffers as a whole.
"When we do our job well and we educate children well and they have the skills that they need to be successful, we help the employment situation. We bring companies here. We improve the quality of life, economic vitality. Failure to do that then starts to deepen the problem for the state in the long run," offered Bill McNeal with the NC Assoc. of School Administrators.