This story originally appeared here and is published by Carolina Public Press through a content-sharing agreement with The Charlotte Observer.

By Mark Price,

Bob Etheridge. Photo courtesy of The Charlotte Observer.
Bob Etheridge. Photo courtesy of The Charlotte Observer.

Critics of proposed cuts to some state education programs rallied Thursday at Charlotte’s Latta Park, vowing to fight such steps as increasing class sizes and cutting the number of teacher assistants.

Leading the rally was Bob Etheridge, the former state superintendent for public instruction, who accused the legislature of trying to undo years of success at improving graduation rates.

The proposed changes would result in students having less one-on-one time with their teacher and those teachers would have fewer resources and textbooks, he said.

“Every day, another bad bill gets introduced and pretty soon it’s mind numbing,” Etheridge said. “But a lot of this stuff may actually get through (the legislature).”

One example, he said, is a move to tighten income requirements that would limit the eligibility of at-risk 4-year-olds to be enrolled in prekindergarten.

“They want to sweep those 4-year-olds under the rug. That’s just plain mean-spirited,” Etheridge said.

He also criticized “extreme” lawmakers who want to put vouchers in place, so parents could send children to private schools. “Private schools are unaccountable,” said Etheridge, and some “are operated by corporations for profit. We’ll be paying their salaries.”

Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed $20.6 billion budget calls for more teachers but fewer teacher assistants, and gives teachers and other state employees a 1 percent pay raise.

More than $11 billion – 56 percent of the budget – would go to education. McCrory would hire 1,800 more teachers and provide $179 million for textbooks and other supplies. He would allocate another $52.4 million for at-risk 4-year-olds in pre-K programs.

The Governor’s Office responded to Etheridge’s criticism by noting that McCrory’s budget prioritizes putting more certified teachers in the classroom and gives all districts full funding for teacher’s assistants in kindergarten and first grade.

“There is also flexibility in the budget for districts to use other funds for teacher assistants if they choose,” said Crystal Feldman, McCrory’s press secretary.

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