A NC counselor gives advice for high schoolers on enduring the coronavirus-era virtual classroom. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) NC Coronavirus Education
A NC counselor gives advice for high schoolers on enduring the coronavirus-era virtual classroom. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Public schools in NC don’t have what they need to reopen and teach kids this fall while corporations pull in billions in aid.

Negotiations for another coronavirus aid package have stalled over assistance for state and local governments. 

Students learning from home are still waiting for devices and hot spots, and funding for the NC Department of Health and Human Services’ school reopening requirements have not yet been fulfilled as students begin the school year. 

More than $3 trillion has been delivered to mostly private citizens, businesses, and corporations. But apparently sending more than a fraction of that money is a bridge too far when it comes to supporting state and local budgets whose public services fill voids the market will not, and offers a safety net when the market does not. 

State and local governments are facing crippling tax revenue shortfalls during this pandemic and are in desperate need of assistance to continue providing public services. But, yet, they’re being accused of mismanagement by officials like Sen. Mitch McConnell.

Meanwhile, some fossil fuel companies already in the process of bankruptcy before COVID-19 are now collecting hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in the form of tax loss carrybacks.  Parents donate supplies and cut box tops to try to close the funding gap left by the government yet insolvent businesses are able to cash in on tax rebates to stay afloat. 

Public schools without paycheck protections

In North Carolina, public schools are the largest employers in 55 out of 100 counties but federal aid to preserve public sector jobs has been virtually nonexistent because the aid given to local governments could only be used for COVID-19 response.  

Companies were granted federal funding to support revenue shortfalls and prevent layoffs, yet despite projections of significant tax revenue losses state and local governments cannot do the same and must use the Coronavirus Relief Fund only for fighting COVID-19. 

If businesses know better how to use money than government, why do they look to government bailouts in times of need at the expense of public services?

Funding for our schools still has not recovered since the last recession where corporate bottom lines were prioritized on the backs of school children.  Class sizes ballooned in most grades and facility needs have been neglected resulting in students learning in trailers or in buildings with poor HVAC systems.  Custodial staff has been cut leaving many schools with one or two full time staff to maintain buildings that serve thousands of students and staff.  Instead of making it up to them when the economy recovered, North Carolina slashed corporate tax rates to less than half of what they once were and the US corporate tax rate was cut nearly in half. 

Our national transportation infrastructure is $2 trillion behind and North Carolina’s schools are $8 billion behind in construction and renovation needs, and another $8 billion behind in meeting its constitutional mandate to provide a “sound basic education.”  Taxpayer dollars flow to corporate welfare while our roads, bridges and schools are neglected by national and state legislatures.

If only lawmakers valued our children as much as fossil fuels and air travel.

Earlier this year, airlines received $25 billion from the federal government, nearly the same amount as the $30 billion Education Stabilization Fund

When the airline industry’s union requested an additional $25 billion months later, they’re framed as effective self-advocates.

When educators push back against shortchanging another generation of children, their unions are criticized

Somehow it’s acceptable for an industry to promote the interests of its employees but “political” when educators demand schoolhouses have working HVAC systems, reasonable class sizes, updated textbooks and devices, nurses and other supports for their students.

For all the bluster about lack of innovation in our schools, we continue to subsidize a dirty and dying fossil fuel industry at rates ten times more than federal education investment and leave the next generation holding the bag of pollution and debt.  If our children are tasked with paying off this debt, shouldn’t they at least get something out of it?

If oil companies were treated like municipalities, US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would tell them to declare bankruptcy instead of giving tax loss carrybacks.

If airlines were treated like public schools, lawmakers would stop approving mergers and instead offer taxpayer dollars to poorly-regulated private and charter airline startups whose planes are flown by a workforce of pilots where only half must have a license.

The short-term interests of adults cannot continue to outweigh the long-term needs of our children.