If Gov. Bev Perdue and liberal activists want to know why their edu-scare campaign against the Republican-led N.C. General Assembly hasn’t worked, they need only to consider the insight of essayist Kahil Gibran, who once wrote that “an exaggeration is a truth that has lost its temper.”
It was undeniably true that, because Republican lawmakers decided last year to balance North Carolina’s budget without a tax increase, their budget spent less money than Gov. Perdue had proposed. And it was true that this lower spending level brought with it a lower number of government jobs than the Democrats would have funded.
What was also true, however, is that the differences between the two budgets – both in spending levels and government positions – were modest. The GOP budget spent about 2 percent less than the governor’s General Fund budget, and about 1 percent less on education.
As for positions, we are talking about a difference of a few thousand overall, including full-time and part-time, and a few hundred teaching positions. Just to put these numbers in perspective, North Carolina employed some 180,000 people in public schools alone in 2010-11, including about 95,000 teachers, and tens of thousands more in other state departments.
It would never do for Perdue and her liberal defenders to stick to these facts, however. They were true – but they were also unlikely to anger or move average voters. Even on the controversial question of teachers, where the GOP budget restored many but not all of the positions temporarily funded by federal stimulus funds, the difference between the Democratic and Republican education budgets amounted to less than 1 percent of teaching positions statewide.
So the Left collectively lost its temper. Truth became exaggeration, and exaggeration became embarrassment.
First, the governor and key Democratic legislators predicted last summer that the Republican budget would result in the loss of as many as 18,000 government jobs and 30,000 jobs in the state’s overall economy. These predictions were risible at the time and disproven by subsequent events.
Next, the Left resorted to the claim that the Republican budget had reduced North Carolina’s level of education funding to 49th in the country. That, too, proved to be a silly claim. Because most states in the nation underwent fiscal stress last year, most of them also found it necessary to adjust their education budgets. The Republican budget was actually more protective of education funding than many other states were, which is why North Carolina’s nationwide ranking actually went up, not down, in 2011-12, according to National Education Association estimates.
The Left’s latest claim is that the Republican budget constituted the largest decrease in education funding in North Carolina history. Again, this is a case where an undeniable truth – total per-pupil spending did go down – was exaggerated into an untruth. In fact, the 2011-12 drop in school spending isn’t even the largest one recorded during what we now know will be Gov. Perdue’s single term.
During the 2008 session, outgoing Gov. Mike Easley and the Democratic legislature approved a budget that modestly increased education spending. During the subsequent 2008-09 school year, North Carolina spent about $8,700 per student in federal, state, and local operating funds – or about $9,000 in today’s dollars.
During the 2009 session, recessionary pressures led Perdue and Democratic lawmakers to cut state funding. So did many counties. Federal education funding grew, but not enough to compensate. North Carolina’s real per-pupil spending dropped about 3 percent in 2009-10. It dropped about 2 percent in 2010-11. And what was the drop in real per-pupil spending in 2011-12, under the GOP budget? Just over 1 percent.
None of these qualifies as a big decline. North Carolina public schools still have slightly more operating money this year, about $8,400 per pupil, than they did in 2005-06. Add in capital spending, and the total comes to nearly $9,000 per pupil – a level of education spending still higher than that of nearly all of our Asian and European competitors.
North Carolinians would never find these truths scary. So instead, they got exaggeration.