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Margaret Powell

Student Support Services
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Margaret knows how underfunding schools robs students of opportunities

Education support professional Margaret Powell says sometimes it’s heartbreaking to see the effects of school funding cuts on students.

In her role as data manager at West Cary Middle School in Cary, N.C., Powell handles student enrollment, health records, grades, and report cards. She also oversees class schedules. Too often, she has had to tell a student that no, they can’t take art or study a language, because there simply is not room for them.

Margaret Powell

There has been frustration. Even tears.

“I heard from one upset parent whose child didn’t get into Spanish,” says Powell. “If that student doesn’t take the language now, she won’t get to study it in high school. But we only have one Spanish teacher in a room that fits 30 kids and a student population of 1,200.”

When you think of all the money those schools are losing, you know they aren’t going to have the resources to offer those kids an equal education. Tweet this

The bottom line is that some kids will miss out.

Even when students do get into the classes they need, they might find themselves in a crowded room with 40 other kids and not enough textbooks.

Wake County is not alone in its struggle to serve students without proper funding. At the start of the school year, nearby Winston-Salem/Forsyth School District had 240 vacancies. “The kids in those classes may not have the highly qualified educator that they deserve,” Powell says.

More than 20,000 educators gathered in Raleigh on May 16 to pressure legislators to increase school funding. That and other actions taken by public school advocates helped. The state increased K-12 school spending by 3 percent, according to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

But funding cuts in previous years were so deep, school funding in North Carolina remains 5.4 percent lower than a decade ago.

Over those ten years, the General Assembly slashed funding for supplies and materials by 55 percent; textbook spending by 40 percent; central office staff by 39 percent; and teacher assistants by 35 percent.

Despite resource gaps in Wake County, Powell moved her family there two years ago to provide a better range of opportunities for her own two sons, ages 11 and 15. The rural county where Powell had lived her entire life was losing around 200 students per year. She feared the community was dying.

“When you think of all the money those schools are losing, you know they aren’t going to have the resources to offer those kids an equal education,” says Powell. “The place where I grew up is not the place that I was living.”

Despite the packed classrooms, Powell says her sons are happy in Wake County and she sees more possibilities for them.

When Powell thinks about the upcoming elections, she hopes that the candidates think about the overall well-being of students and families—not just one or two isolated education issues.

“We have so far to go on school funding. But I hope our next elected leaders are also thinking about the whole child, and will work to reduce high-stakes standardized testing and support arts in schools.”

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About This Project

We believe that opportunity begins with great public schools for every student. As the nation’s largest union, NEA created this series to highlight the issues that matter most to our members in the upcoming presidential election.

We know that opportunity for all requires a democracy that works for all, which is why we’re sharing personal stories from across the country; to demonstrate what’s at stake in this election for our students, our schools and our communities.

Support our efforts, contribute your story.