Republican leaders in North Carolina have a problem. People are beginning to understand that dismantling public education is an important part of their agenda.
And that is not a popular position. People still believe in public schools, despite years of misleading but well-funded attacks on them by the think tanks on the Right in Raleigh and Washington.
The General Assembly has provided ample evidence of the disdain for public education this session. The budget fired teachers and teacher assistants, slashed funding for textbooks and supplies and locked thousands of at-risk kids out of nationally recognized preschool programs.
Funding for mentoring and professional development for teachers was drastically cut. Support for the N.C. Teaching Fellows was abolished.
The overall cuts dropped North Carolina to 49th in the nation in per pupil spending. Funding for public schools as a percentage of the state’s General Fund is the lowest in more than 40 years.
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger responded to criticism of the budget last summer by claiming that Republicans reformed education.
But disinvesting in education is not reform. It is a damaging blow to a system already struggling with a shortage of resources that makes it difficult for teachers to do their jobs.
And while it’s tough for Republicans to dance around their disinvestment in schools, that’s not their only problem in their appeal to voters.
They just don’t want to cut funding, they want to destroy traditional public education. And that’s not hyperbole.
House Speaker Thom Tillis confirmed it at a recent town hall in Asheboro. Here’s how Tillis responded to a question about teachers and public schools.
“I understand that Majority Leader Stam has said that his goal would be to ultimately eliminate public schools and I categorically disagree with that for a variety of reasons. Right now with him being Majority Leader and me being Speaker, I like my chances.”
Bizarre as it is, that’s Tillis actually confirming that the elected Majority Leader of the Republican House wants to eliminate public schools.
Stam introduced a voucher scheme last year that he promises to revisit next session.
And Tillis has more than Stam to explain. The Republican majorities in the House and Senate not only lifted the cap on charter schools, they voted to allow for-profit companies to set up virtual charters in North Carolina.
The Cabarrus County Board of Education recently voted to approve a virtual charter school run by K-12, Inc. An audit of K-12’s virtual charter in Colorado found the state paid $800,000 to the company for students who never enrolled or lived out of state.
That’s a funny way to show support for traditional public schools, to give taxpayer money to for-profit corporations to educate kids online with little or no accountability.
Republicans don’t really seem to have any second thoughts about their deep cuts to education or giving public school money to private corporations. It’s more than a plan, it’s fulfilling a deeply held philosophy.
Their only worry is that the public figures out what they are doing. That’s why you can expect more disclaimers and flowery speeches from Tillis and his colleagues about much they really do support public schools.
But nobody’s buying it. Their record is disturbingly clear.