We are 'slowly starving our public schools,' June Atkinson says - WRBL

We are 'slowly starving our public schools,' June Atkinson says

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BAYBORO, N.C. -

Teachers across the East got a pep talk from the top Tuesday as State Superintendent June Atkinson delivered speeches at convocations in Beaufort and Pamlico Counties.

Her back-to-school message for teachers was optimistic.

But behind the scenes, she talked more candidly with 9 On Your Side's Katie Banks in an exclusive interview about her concerns for the future of public education in North Carolina.

"If we don't do something now, we will be facing a dire situation," Atkinson said. "Oh my goodness, we have started a spiral where we are slowly starving our public schools so that they cannot be as successful as we want them to be."

Atkinson says state lawmakers cut $117 million from the public education budget this year. She points out they also voted to funnel millions of taxpayer dollars into private schools with a new voucher program, eliminated master's degree pay and ended teacher tenure.

But that's not where it ends. The budget cut thousands of teaching positions and did not offer any pay increases for teachers whose salaries already rank near the bottom in the nation.

"The education atmosphere in NC is one of uneasiness," Atkinson said. "Our teachers are very disappointed at some of the actions of the General Assembly."

It's those teachers Atkinson tried to uplift with words of determination and resilience during stops at schools in Beaufort and Pamlico Counties Tuesday.

"If we're going to make a difference for our students, all of us have to be prepared every day to face the challenges that we have," she told a crowd of teachers at Pamlico Middle School.

Despite state-wide protests from teachers and parents, the GOP-led legislature and Gov. Pat McCrory stand by their cuts.

They tout more funding than ever for grades K-12 and say the public school budget actually increased by about 5 percent this year from last.

9 On Your Side asked Atkinson to explain the discrepancies to determine whether education spending actually went up or down.

"We have received more dollars for public education than we did last years in many of the categories," Atkinson says. "However, when our schools open, we will have 17,142 more students in our schools. So the funding per student continues to go downward."

"If we don't invest now, we will pay later," she says.

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