The North Carolina legislature adjourned from their special session yesterday without addressing their latest unfunded mandate. The General Assembly passed a law requiring smaller class sizes but did not allocate funds to cover the costs. Schools across the state will be required to cut programs like arts, music and even physical education if the legislature doesn’t provide more money.

It’s a cynical ploy by Republicans who are using school funding to force county governments to make choices that will hurt their residents. The GOP is using the ploy in their efforts to shrink government, even ones they don’t control. They’re also probably trying to garner support for their voucher programs and expanded charter schools.

They’re betting that the public will blame local school boards and county commissions for a lack of resources for schools and that more parents will demand alternatives to schools that can’t provide supplemental education. Republicans on social media talk about county priorities. Coercion is a more appropriate term.

Policially, the maneuver gives Democrats more ammunition going into the 2018 elections.  Republicans have cut per pupil spending dramatically since they took power. While they claim to have provided more funding, their allocations haven’t kept up with growth or inflation. In fact, they’ve already eliminated teachers’ aides from some classrooms and forced schools to reduce supplies going to classrooms. While lowering class size is the right idea, funding it is crucial.

Republicans using children as political footballs is wrong. We need to be strengthening our public schools, not weakening them. Counties that are already struggling shouldn’t be forced to make decisions between providing PE for students and other vital services for their communities. If the General Assembly doesn’t have he money to fund their mandate, then they should admit their tax reform short-changed the people of North Carolina. It’s their job to fund their priorities and not pass the buck to local govenments.

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