Fitzsimon File

Shrugging off the evidence of the assault on public schools

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You can argue that the most revealing moments of this shockingly regressive legislative session have come in the last two weeks.

And I am not talking about the mean-spirited decision by legislative leaders and Governor Pat McCrory to slash unemployment benefits and deny 170,000 laid off workers emergency help from the federal government while they continue their desperate search for a job.

And it wasn’t the absurd passage of a bill to deny health care to 500,000 low-income people by refusing to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

It wasn’t even the decision by the House and Senate not to extend the state Earned Income Tax Credit that helps almost a million low-wage workers and their families make ends meet.

All those decisions to punish and demonize the poor in service of a reactionary tea party agenda were sadly as predictable as they were offensive when you consider the ideology of the folks currently in control in Raleigh.

The surprise of the session came last week when the State Board of Education heard a report about teacher salaries that showed North Carolina now ranks 46th in how much we pay our teachers, behind even South Carolina.

A starting teacher must work 15 years before earning a $40,000 salary. Teacher pay in a state allegedly committed to quality public education is simply a scandal.

The teacher pay numbers came out a few days after a report from the NEA that showed North Carolina had fallen to 48th in the country in per-pupil expenditures in public education.

The NEA ranking is the one cited by Republican legislators and some conservative groups last year to show the budget cuts in 2011 didn’t cause a precipitous drop in the state’s education spending relative to other states.

They haven’t said much about this year’s NEA spending rankings that take into account the last two years of slashing budgets by the majorities that assumed control of the House and Senate in the 2010 election.

What’s most shocking about the numbers is the lack of response they have provoked in the legislative halls and beyond.

The news that we ranked 48th in spending actually came during “Education Week” in the House, when Speaker Thom Tillis held public question and answer sessions with superintendents, principals, and teachers.

The sessions garnered significant media coverage and the funding rankings were mentioned a few times but didn’t create much of a stir.

Instead we heard from House leaders that despite vocal opposition from the educators who came to Raleigh, they will be pushing a version of a voucher scheme this year, which would drain even more resources from public schools and the students and families who rely on them.

North Carolina is now virtually last in the county in how much we invest in educating our kids and how much we pay the teachers who we demand work harder and harder to improve student achievement.

The massive disinvestment that brings bigger classes, fewer teacher assistants, textbook shortages and lack of classroom supplies comes as high school graduation rates have reached an all-time high.

Teachers have miraculously been doing more with less, to quote a popular Republican talking point. And as a reward, they are getting even less to do more with.

Governor Pat McCrory said many times during his campaign for that public education was broken in North Carolina. That’s ridiculous.

What’s broken is the state’s commitment to public schools. The latest funding studies make that undeniably clear.

And so the session rolls on with the evidence of the dismantling of public schools just another footnote in this push of North Carolina to the far right.

The war on the poor seems to have anesthetized us somehow to the parallel assault on public education that used to be our consensus priority in North Carolina. It’s clearly not any more, not with this crowd in charge.

 

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