Our schools are struggling to survive while rich people and corporations keep getting tax cuts

Do you wake up wondering if you’re going to be late to work because the school bus didn’t show up on time … again?

Or when your kid is going to have a full-time, permanent, teacher?

Or why your child comes home crying because they’re not getting what they need to overcome a learning, language, or social barrier?

Or when the A/C in the school gym is going to get fixed?

Or, or, or…

If so, you’re not alone. Things in our schools really are getting worse, and it’s directly because of policy choices being made in Raleigh.

Wave after wave of tax cuts have diverted public dollars into the pockets of wealthy people and corporations, all while the General Assembly has refused to give schools the funding they need to find and keep teachers, bus drivers, janitors, counselors, and other people it takes to nurture our children. At the start of this school year, there were more than 5,500 vacant teaching positions in North Carolina, and less than 500 of those spots had been filled within the first 40 days of the school year.

It didn’t used to be this way.

On the first day of school in 2018, there were about 1,550 open teaching positions in North Carolina’s public schools. Vacancies inched up over the next few years as continued underfunding made it harder to find and keep qualified teachers. State lawmakers had turned up the heat in the 2017 budget when they decided to drop retirement health benefits for teachers and other state employees hired after 2020.

Then COVID-19 and the inflation it created turned a rising simmer of a problem into a rolling boil of a crisis. The raises approved by the General Assembly in the past two years came nowhere close to covering the cost of living, forcing a lot of teachers, bus drivers, and other school employees to look for better-paying jobs somewhere else. Even when the budget was passed last year with modest raises, inflation running faster than raises effectively meant state employees had lost more than 2.5 weeks worth of pay, and rising prices have eaten into public servants wages even more since then.

The result was an explosion in vacancies. There were almost 2.5 times more open posts in 2021 than 2018, which has climbed to over 3.5 times more this school year. Districts have been forced to staff some classrooms with long-term substitutes or other employees who are “not lasting solutions to the vacancy issue and are only stop-gap (in most cases) employed by the local educational agency until a full-time, permanent, fully-licensed teacher can be found.”

And the problem doesn’t stop at the classroom door.

Every morning and afternoon parents across North Carolina get calls updating them on which buses are running late, or not at all. The Department of Public Instruction doesn’t track all school vacancies like they do for teaching positions, but the NC Superintendents Association did a survey at the start of the year that showed our schools were trying to fill over 1,300 bus driver slots across the state. Some districts with more local resources are increasing pay to attract more bus drivers, but a lot of districts simply don’t have the funds it would take to offer drivers enough to keep them from leaving for better-paying jobs.

Unpredictable bus routes are particularly hard on parents with the least control over their work schedules, a lot of whom are women and people of color who are paid the worst wages in North Carolina. Even parents with more flexible workplaces may be forced to forego promotions or new job opportunities, knowing that they can’t reliably count on when their kids are going to get picked up or dropped off.

And it’s not just families with children that suffer.

A whole generation of children is not getting the start in life it deserves and our future economy relies upon. Parents who are constantly leaving work to pick up their kids or stressed out because their children aren’t getting the support they need at school aren’t able to bring their best to the workplace. Underfunded schools make it harder for companies to get people to move to North Carolina, a problem that will only worsen the longer we deny public schools the resources they need.

Sometimes it takes a crisis to cue into a problem that has been growing for years, and that’s what we’re seeing with school vacancies this year. The General Assembly has repeatedly chosen tax cuts for wealthy people and corporations over adequately funding our schools, and now those chickens are coming home to roost. COVID-19 and inflation have worsened a pre-existing condition so now even more heroic measures are required than if we had dealt with the problem earlier on. Legislators need to hear that we’ve had enough calls about late buses, enough notices that a beloved teacher is moving on, enough apologies from school leaders without the resources they need to fix crumbling buildings.

We’ve had enough, and it’s time to stop the tax cuts and give our children the education they deserve.

Patrick McHugh is the research manager with the N.C. Budget & Tax Center and a parent with a child in elementary school.

(7) comments


Pretty accurate, except you left out the part where Governor Cooper is the main culprit in subsidizing big business in NC. And Stein will be worse if he makes it to Governor.

David Collins

Chuckle , chuckle . Knew the race card would pop up at some point and there it was . Located in the bus driver segment . The mullet wrapper never fails to deliver .

The NC Education bureaucrats need to look at their own bloated ranks . Way too many paper pushers , assistants to this and that , grief counselors and meal providers . Bus drivers , who would want that job ? Pay has increased but also has the number of little horrors that must be dealt with . Not exactly a good way to start the day .

All this is of your own making and it is not about having enough money . More about how you chose to spend the money .

Could go on but what is the point ? This is government after all .


There is always a good chuckle in the predictable comments. teachers and boards of education have become a target of the right. Nc is what 48th in education spending? forty eighth? Throwing money at every problem is not a wise solution. Not spending enough guarantees poor performance and results. Perhaps NC should be midpoint in education spending, not near the bottom?

David Collins

Recent well publicized reports of some of the highest dollar per student spending resulting in zero proficiencies in math and reading kind of shoots a hole in that statement . Incompetence breeds incompetence which only leads to more incompetence . Hey , sounds like today’s government to me . All about caring , just ask them .


I dont know that equating the serious problems of inner city schools translates to broad generalizations about education spending? As the author said critical thinking skills are so important. parental involvement, dedicated teachers, and adequate resources bring good results. Culture war nonsense, semi literate parents shrieking and making threats at school board meetings, and book bans, not so much.

David Collins

Just a FYI thing here . Check out “ How To become a teacher in NC “ brought to you by the NC-College of Education . NCSU.edu . Enjoy !


I don't have a problem with 'shortcuts" to becoming a teacher. A masters in education is hardly a guarantee of effective teaching, although it has become a metric for advancement. Like any profession teachers are either engaged, dedicated and effective, or merely clock watchers going through the motions. think back to your favorite teachers..

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