Education debate is not just about the numbers

Education debate is not just about the numbers

- in Fitzsimon File


The propaganda outfits on the right are doing all they can this election season to distort the numbers about the recent cuts to education made by the folks currently in charge in Raleigh.

It seems like every day brings another report or column or chart from a think tank or advocacy group claiming the General Assembly has actually increased education spending in the last few years and given all teachers one of the biggest raises in history.

Neither claim is true of course. Education funding has been cut.  Classes are larger as teaching positions have been slashed. There are fewer teacher assistants in the classrooms in the early grades.

There are not enough textbooks to go around and not only are teachers having to pay for supplies out of their own pockets because of funding cuts,  last year the General Assembly abolished a tax deduction for teachers forced to spend their own money to buy things that students need.

As for the teacher raise, the confusing plan eventually passed by the House and Senate and signed by Governor Pat McCrory gave newer teachers a significant raise but left many veteran teachers with barely an increase at all.

An analysis by the N.C. Budget Tax Center shows that a teachers with 14 years experience are getting a $272 raise, or an increase of 0.7 percent.  A 30-year teacher with a master’s degree will be getting $666 dollars more this year, a bump of 1.2 percent.

But here’s something the spin doctors on the right don’t understand. It is not just about the numbers, no matter how hard they massage them to make it appear that legislative leaders and Governor Pat McCrory have increased funding for public schools.

It’s about the barrage of anti-public school and anti-teacher rhetoric from the Right for the past several years. That’s why the think tanks trying to play with the numbers are having such a hard time breaking through.

Parents across North Carolina have heard legislative leaders and Governor Pat McCrory bash public education for years, only to claim this election year that they care deeply about public schools and the people who work in them.

McCrory ran for office less than two years ago bellowing repeatedly that our public schools were “broken” even as high school graduation rates were reaching all-time highs and the state was making gains on national tests.

His campaign website still says it with the claim “We cannot achieve excellence by simply spending more money on a broken system; we must make major reforms.” There have been no real major reforms since McCrory took office, only budget cuts and now false claims that more money was spent.

House Speaker Thom Tillis said that members of the N.C. Association of Educators, the leading teacher organization in the state, “don’t care about kids. They don’t care about classrooms. They only care about their jobs and their pensions.”

Play all the tricks you want with the numbers. Teachers and parents remember those kinds of attacks.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger has constantly tried to remove career status protections for teachers charging that the current system “rewards mediocrity,” an implication that mediocre teachers fill many classrooms.

The rhetoric from groups that support the current legislative leadership has been even more strident, referring to public schools as failing government monopoly schools that somehow indoctrinate students.

Then there is the creation by the General Assembly and Governor Pat McCrory of the almost completely unaccountable voucher scheme that diverts funding to private schools and religious academies with no regulation or oversight of what they teach or how they teach it or how they spend the money.

Polls show that people overwhelmingly oppose voucher schemes. They correctly see them as attempts to dismantle the current system of public education.

Political leaders who claim to value public education and the teachers and other professionals who dedicate their lives to making it work are now funneling taxpayer money to religious schools that teach students that the earth is only a few thousand years old and that dinosaurs co-existed with humans.

Don’t expect the desperate attempts to distort the education record of the General Assembly and Governor Pat McCrory to slow down in the next few weeks. Too much is at stake.

But no matter how many reports and op-ed columns the propaganda outfits produce that fiddle with the numbers, most people in North Carolina understand the way the folks currently in charge in Raleigh feel about public education.

Their animosity and disdain have been loud and clear for the last four years.