Justice Department Suit Threatens North Carolina Title IX Funding
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
North Carolina is suing the federal government, and now the federal government has filed a complaint against the state. It's over North Carolina's law which restricts the use of public restrooms by transgender people. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch says the government reserves the option of curtailing federal funding to the state for education, and that could mean more than $4.5 billion dollars.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Matt Ellinwood joins us to discuss what would happen if that money went away. He's the director of the Education and Law Project at the North Carolina Justice Center. That's a nonprofit that supports repealing this law. Welcome to the show.
MATT ELLINWOOD: Hey, Ari. Thanks for having me.
SHAPIRO: How does $4.5 billion dollars fit into the larger state budget for education?
ELLINWOOD: Well, it represents a significant amount of the overall budget. It's 11.5 percent of the state's total support for elementary and secondary schools. So over a tenth of the budget will be reduced, and it will also have an impact on our universities and colleges, which will see a substantial loss in terms of things like scholarships and Pell Grants.
SHAPIRO: Is it allocated for specific things - salaries, supplies - or is it just general expenditures?
ELLINWOOD: Yeah, in the K-12 context, about a third of this funding supports educational programs for low-income students. About 37 percent goes towards child nutrition, so things like the school lunch and school breakfast program. And about 22 percent goes towards services for individuals with disabilities.
Another way to look at it is then - so within each one of those categories, the funding goes to support certain things, and it's primarily for personnel. If we were to lose this money, it would equate to losing about 7,700 teachers and 4,400 teaching assistants.
SHAPIRO: Would losing the money mean losing that many jobs necessarily or could the money come from somewhere else in the state?
ELLINWOOD: In theory, the money could come from somewhere else. But the reality of where our education budget is is that there's really nowhere else to cut from anymore. We're currently ranked 46th in the nation in terms of per-pupil expenditure. We've seen really significant cuts to the classroom since 2008. We've lost about 50 percent of our funding for textbooks, 50 percent for instructional supplies. We've lost 100 percent of funding for teacher professional development, for literacy coaches and for mentor teachers.
So we have a lot of unmet needs as a result of years of budget cuts, and it's really difficult for me to see where this money could possibly come from other than cuts to teacher positions, which are the bulk of the budget, and the loss of some services to students directly in the classroom.
SHAPIRO: Do people see the loss of this money as a serious possibility or does it seem more like a threat that probably won't be carried out?
ELLINWOOD: It's hard for me to guess at where it would all go. I take it very seriously, though, given the budget constraints that we have and the fact that, again, our education system really can't handle this type of loss at this point. It would have a really significant impact on the education, not just of low-income students or students with disabilities, but all students.
When you lose that number of teachers, you're going to see class sizes go up. You're going to see the availability of resources and textbooks decline. And it's going to have an impact that'll be felt across the entire system at all schools.
SHAPIRO: That's Matt Ellinwood director of the Education and Law Project at the North Carolina Justice Center. Thanks a lot.
ELLINWOOD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.