You have to give folks on the Right credit for one thing this election season. They are going all out to mislead people in North Carolina about the damage done to public education by the General Assembly in the last four years. And they are not letting the facts get in the way.
It’s a tough job, even if you are willing to distort the numbers and take policies out of context and ignore the effect of the Great Recession, etc. People can read all the op-ed columns and whitepapers the conservative propaganda outfits can produce but they don’t make much sense to parents when their son or daughter is in a bigger class this year and doesn’t have a textbook to bring home anymore and their favorite teacher has moved to another state.
The job of the spin doctors trying to deflect attention from the all the damage done to public schools was made more difficult this week by two compelling reminders of what has actually happened in the last few years.
The widely respected Center for Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington released a report about states funding of public schools and how it compares to funding before the recession began in 2008-2009.
North Carolina is one of 30 states providing less funding for education than it provided before the recession hit. The state now spends 14.5 percent less on public schools than it spent in 2008 when you adjust for inflation, the seventh biggest decrease in the country. That’s not a number you hear much from the Right these days.
Neither is the finding in the report that per pupil spending in the since 2008 is down by $855, the sixth worst in the nation in that category.
And finally, and maybe most compelling given the current rhetoric from the Right, the report finds that North Carolina is spending 4.7 percent less in per pupil spending this year than it spent last year. So much for the “increased spending in education” the defenders of the General Assembly claim.
This week also brought a startling story about another key part of the Right’s education agenda, the rapid and still too unaccountable expansion of charter schools, which in many cases have developed into profit centers for shady operators instead of the “laboratories of education innovation” that we were promised.
The report from ProPublica tells the story of Baker Mitchell, a charter school operator in southeastern North Carolina, and the four charters that contract with Roger Bacon Academy, a for-profit company that Mitchell owns, to operate the schools.
The scheme funnels millions of taxpayer dollars to Mitchell’s company and he is still balking at releasing some of the details about he spends the money, despite a law passed last year to require him to release detailed salary information. It is public money after all. The Wilmington Star-News is now suing for the records.
Meanwhile the public money keeps flowing to Mitchell who, the report found, also convinced the General Assembly to give him a tax credit for renting property he owns to the charters he controls.
Mitchell is well-connected, serving on the board of one prominent right-wing think tank in Raleigh while his wife serves on another one. Both groups have been strong proponents of the rapid and in many cases unaccountable expansion of charter schools and have both have been silent about Mitchell’s web of conflicts of interest and his refusal to release his financial information about how he spends public dollars.
Less spending on public education plus profiteering and ethical conflicts by well-connected conservatives cynically cashing in on the charter school craze: Those are the facts.
No wonder the folks on the Right are working so hard to hide them.