This year, we will see significant cuts to both the state General Fund budget and the Education Trust Fund budget. Education spending will especially suffer this year.
Education spending has been cut by 20 percent from what we spent just four years ago. We have not purchased new textbooks in years, and we have lost thousands of teachers and support personnel, leading to larger class sizes and fewer resources.
Of course, some cuts had to be made in order to respond to the realities of the economic crisis that we have been suffering through for the past four years. But some of the cuts to education could have been avoided.
Last year, the Republican Supermajority passed a bill called “The Rolling Reserve Act.” This law puts a hard cap on education funding each year using a 15-year budgeting average. This means that even if the state brings in more money than the 15-year average, that money cannot be spent.
This year alone, the Rolling Reserve Act will cost our schools $108 million. That money could be used to buy new textbooks, hire more bus drivers or provide our teachers with more money to purchase classroom supplies. Instead, that money is going to sit in the bank.
Democrats have offered two solutions to the Rolling Reserve Act. The first would repeal the Rolling Reserve Act entirely and put that money back in the schools. However, it is very unlikely that the Republican Supermajority will support this bill.
The second option is a bill Senator Roger Bedford and I are sponsoring to use the money that is being withheld to fully fund the Prepaid Affordable College Tuition (PACT) program.
The Rolling Reserve Act created a second savings account for education, called the Budget Stabilization Fund. What Democrats have proposed is, beginning in 2015 when the Rainy Day Account has been repaid in full, to divert money from this account in order to make up for any shortfall in the PACT funding. This bill would also require that all PACT contracts be paid in full at the current tuition rate for the year in which the contract is redeemed.
This bill is especially needed after the State Supreme Court ruled last week to void the settlement that had been reached between the PACT board and some PACT families. In their ruling, the court stated that the settlement violated the PACT contracts, which guaranteed full tuition payments.
The Republican Supermajority has failed to lead or offer a solution to fund the program. Now that the court has overturned the settlement, the bill sponsored by myself and Senator Bedford is the only remaining solution. The state made a promise to these families, and we have a responsibility to keep that promise.