Teachers can make North Carolina’s midterm elections a big win for education

NC House of Representatives gallery, May 16, 2018

It was five months ago today, but I can still hear your voices, still feel the goosebumps on my arms.  

On May 16, after standing in line for more than two hours outside the North Carolina State Legislative Building in Raleigh, I finally made my way inside and slipped into the House gallery.  The gallery was packed with teachers, all dutifully following the ‘be quiet’ directions like only educators can. But the real display of power was just on the other side of the glass, in the rotunda separating the House and Senate galleries.  Teachers there had the volume set on 10, waving signs and chanting ‘Remember, remember!  We vote in November!!’ over and over.  At times the Speaker of the House Tim Moore had to pause at the microphone and wait for the noise to subside because nobody on the House floor could hear him.  We truly felt the power of our numbers that day.

The next day we all went back to school, and the General Assembly’s Republican supermajority went back to business as usual.  They passed the entire budget in a conference report, an unprecedented move designed to eliminate debate about education-related topics like higher teacher pay.  They made sure a $1.9 billion school bond which would have repaired our crumbling schools and relieved student overcrowding all over the state was not allowed on the general election ballot.  Instead of focusing on public education, they put their energy into adding six unnecessary and dangerous constitutional amendments to this fall’s ballot in a brazen, last ditch effort to keep their stranglehold on power by driving conservative voters to the polls.  

In other words, as painful as it is to admit, May 16 had no direct impact whatsoever on the actions of our current state legislators.  None. Their priorities remain to give massive tax cuts to the wealthy, to privatize education, and to starve traditional public schools of resources.  No number of teachers waving signs and yelling is going to change those priorities. As Senator Jeff Jackson put it, you can’t make both tax cuts and public education number one at the same time.  You have to choose. And the GOP supermajority’s choice couldn’t be more clear.

So what’s left is to change the legislators.

If you’re unhappy with our current General Assembly’s approach to education, then you need to do your part to end the supermajority that is behind this mess.  Thanks to extreme gerrymandering in our traditionally purple state, North Carolina Republicans currently hold 74 seats to 46 Democrat seats in the House, and they hold 35 seats to 15 Democrat seats in the Senate.  As a result, they can pass any bill they want and override Governor Cooper’s veto. This lack of balance has led to a far-right agenda which includes the de-prioritizing of public education over the past 8 years.  It’s turned us into a national laughingstock, with out-of-town relatives constantly asking us, “What the hell’s going on in North Carolina?”

In order to break the supermajority, restore the Governor’s veto, and bring back transparency and debate to our democracy, we need to add either four Democrats to the House or six Democrats to the Senate.  That’s completely within our means, but it depends 100% on who votes.

The teacher vote has the potential to impact the General Assembly’s future approach to education in a big way.  There are more than 94,000 teachers in North Carolina.  We’re a diverse crew, and there are some political differences among us, but the vast majority of us agree that public education must be a bigger priority and that schools should be provided with the resources they need to get the job done.  With historical NC midterm voter turnout hovering in the mid 40% range, teachers voting for pro-public education candidates have the opportunity to make a real difference in election outcomes this year.  If we show up at the polls.

Early voting starts tomorrow all over the state, and voting is more convenient than ever (find the location near you by using the handy tool found here).  Please, please, please, put it on your calendar right now if you haven’t already, and make sure every single teacher you know understands the urgency of voting in this midterm election.

We don’t have to continue to helplessly accept policy and processes that are bad for North Carolina’s school children.  We can vote in legislators who believe that public education should be the number one priority for our state. On November 7 we can wake up to a new dawn and begin working to restore North Carolina to its former position as a leader in education.  

But it all starts with holding true to that promise you chanted back on May 16:  “Remember, remember, we vote in November!!

Charter-related campaign donations preceded Brawley’s municipal charter bill

One of the most controversial pieces of legislation to come out of the North Carolina General Assembly this year was four-term Mecklenburg County Representative Bill Brawley’s Municipal Charter Bill, HB 514.  The bill cleared the way for the mostly-white towns of Matthews, Mint Hill, Cornelius, and Huntersville to use city money to create their own charter schools and admit their own residents while turning away others from more diverse neighboring parts of the county.  In addition to drawing funds from CMS, the municipalities will be able to use their much higher wealth to provide resources at levels which are not possible for students in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools.

There is no question that setting up municipal charter schools will increase economic and racial segregation for Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, already the most racially and economically segregated school district in North Carolina.  Whether or not that was the intent of the bill is another matter.  

Representative Brawley has publicly said the legislation was simply him carrying out the will of his constituents.  However, privately he hasn’t always sounded so much like a dutiful public servant.  Last spring, at a meeting including Brawley, CMS district and board officials, and representatives from Leading On Opportunity, Brawley reportedly offered to drop HB 514 if CMS fired legislative liaison (and former fellow Republican state representative) Charles Jeter.  Brawley’s offer got surprisingly little media attention, especially considering it appears to be a clear violation of North Carolina law governing legislative ethics.

CMS, of course, didn’t fire Charles Jeter.  Brawley didn’t pull the bill, and HB 514 sailed through North Carolina’s GOP supermajority-controlled General Assembly and became law.  

A deep dive into the North Carolina State Board of Elections Campaign Finance database reveals another possible motivating factor behind the controversial legislation. 

Charter schools are big business in North Carolina.  Since the state cap on charter schools was lifted in 2012, the number of charter schools in the state has nearly doubled, to 185.  A Portland, Oregon multimillionaire named John Bryan and his charter school network TeamCFA run 13 of those schools.  

Campaign finance disclosure documents show that, in 2016, John Bryan donated $7100 to Brawley’s campaign, and Bryan has donated $142,000 to the North Carolina Republican Party since 2014.  But Brawley isn’t only carrying out the will of pro-charter constituents 3000 miles away in Oregon.  Closer to home, North Carolina Citizens for Freedom in Education IE PAC donated $17,084 to Brawley’s campaign in 2016.  That organization shares a Raleigh address with Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, a nonprofit established to advocate for public school privatization and charter expansion.  The same year the lion’s share of those donations were made, an Education Task Force was created in Matthews in the heart of Brawley’s district and began meeting to explore setting up charter schools.  In March of 2017, Representative Brawley then filed the first version of HB 514, permitting the towns of Matthews and Mint Hill to operate their own charters.

All of this may be business as usual in Raleigh, but that doesn’t make it right.  It’s not right for our legislators to offer legislative favors in return for the firing of a state employee.  It’s not right for officials who are elected to represent the best interests of all their constituents to sell out to special interests and executives from Oregon.  It’s not right for them to enact public policy that clearly marginalizes and disadvantages students of color in a city that already ranks dead last in the nation in terms of economic mobility.  We all deserve better representation than this.

Hey NC voters–don’t forget Senator Berger sank the school bond!

Northwoods Park Middle, Onslow County (AP)

As campaign season hits the home stretch, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger is trying desperately to polish a turd.  He’s claiming that he’s showed his commitment to North Carolina’s teachers and students through textbook spending (whoops–down 45% from peak levels in 2009-10) and per-pupil expenditures (umm, 25% below the national average, currently ranks 39th in the nation).  

But as school districts in eastern North Carolina begin to assess catastrophic building damage following Hurricane Florence and teachers all over the state try to focus students in classrooms with no air conditioning, there’s one turd that voters really need to remember.

When the General Assembly’s short session began last summer, proponents of public education were eagerly waiting for lawmakers to take up a proposed $1.9 billion school bond for inclusion on November’s general election ballot.  The bond was the result of a broad grassroots effort which mobilized after the NC Department of Public Instruction’s 2015-16 Statewide Facility Needs Survey identified $8.1 billion in capital needs.  It also followed the subsequent passage of a class size mandate which will soon require many additional classrooms across the state but provides no funding for those classrooms.

State legislators openly acknowledge the desperate condition of North Carolina’s schools.  As Representative Craig Horn told me, “We have many school buildings that simply cannot support or even allow for modern teaching techniques or the application of much-needed technology.  They are cramped, in need of basic repairs to walls, roofs and floors. Sanitation and even infestation is a constant challenge. These conditions severely impact both student and teacher.”

The Public School Building Bond Act of 2017 had bipartisan rank and file support in both the Senate and the House, and it enjoyed sponsorship by Senate Education committee chair Michael Lee and House Education committee chair Craig Horn.  Yet despite the overwhelming need and bipartisan support, Phil Berger determined the public should not have the opportunity to decide whether it’s in our children’s best interest to relieve overcrowding and renovate crumbling schoolhouses.  Berger told sponsors of the Senate bill that the legislation would not be moving forward, and the General Assembly instead focused on drafting constitutional amendments which would drive conservative voter turnout–a last ditch effort to hold onto the GOP supermajority.

North Carolina residents deserve to be represented by those who put the needs of our children ahead of their own accumulation of wealth and power.  In June, a poll by the conservative Civitas Institute found that nearly three quarters of North Carolinians feel that public schools do not receive sufficient funding from the state.  The rejected school bond was a major missed opportunity for lawmakers to serve those constituents by simply allowing them to decide whether their own tax dollars should be used to provide the facilities needed for a twenty-first century education.   

There is so much at stake in the 2018 election.  We need to vote for candidates who believe that public education is the cornerstone of building the society that we want in North Carolina.  But as we look for candidates who meet that description, it’s equally important that we carefully review the work of our current leaders and decide whether or not we want to take away their power.  As the most powerful politician in North Carolina, Senator Phil Berger has demonstrated time and again that his priorities are to give tax cuts to the wealthy, encourage privatization of education, and starve traditional public schools of the resources we need.  Remember that when you vote next month.

The NC tax cap amendment will cost you–unless you’re super rich

At first glance it might sound great.  Limit my taxes? Sure!!

That’s the reaction the North Carolina Republican Party is counting on for uninformed voters to pass the constitutional amendment to cap the maximum state income tax.  

The truth is, unless you are super rich, this amendment is far more likely to cost you money than to save you money.  

The amendment language on the ballot appears as follows:

Rather than benefiting the vast majority of North Carolinians, the tax cap amendment is a gift to wealthy GOP donors.  According to North Carolina’s Budget and Tax Center, those in the top 1% of income are the primary beneficiaries of such a policy, receiving “more than half of the total next tax cut from a 7 percent maximum income tax rate when compared to what would be possible with a graduated rate structure with brackets on higher incomes.”  

Do North Carolina’s millionaires really need the help?  Take a look at how income has skyrocketed for the top 1% in North Carolina since the GOP takeover of the General Assembly:

With income tax capped by the Constitution, North Carolina’s policymakers will be forced to look elsewhere for revenue if they don’t want to reduce services.  That means raising sales and property tax, which hits working class people much harder than it does the wealthy.

Another huge problem with this amendment is it will permanently hamstring future legislatures from making sizable investments in areas like public education.  Even if we’re able to build a General Assembly that is inclined to make substantial improvements in our schools after years of underfunding, there will be little they can do with revenue that is permanently limited by our Constitution.

The bottom line is that this is an amendment that will benefit only the 1%.  The other 99% should be voting against it and telling everyone they know to do the same.

 

North Carolina’s Voter ID amendment is a 21st century poll tax

The six constitutional amendments on North Carolina’s general election ballot in November range from absurd (protect the already-protected right to hunt and fish) to downright dangerous (enable court packing by the General Assembly).  But none threaten our state’s democratic processes more than the Voter ID amendment.

The Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution states that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”  After this amendment was adopted in 1870, poll taxes were instituted in most of the Southern states–including North Carolina–to keep African American citizens who couldn’t afford to pay them from voting. This system remained in place until the 1960s.

Fast forward to 2018.  Sensing their eight-year stranglehold on power is drawing to a close, North Carolina’s GOP supermajority is embarking on another attempt to disenfranchise African American voters.  The Voter ID amendment requires a majority vote and would “require voters to provide photo identification before voting in person.”  If the amendment is approved, the General Assembly will determine what sort of ID is acceptable when it reconvenes on November 27.

Supporters of Voter ID laws often cite the need to curb rampant voter fraud.  However, a 2017 audit by the NC State Board of Elections found almost no such fraud existed.  The audit showed only one occurrence out of nearly 5 million votes cast in the 2016 general election in which the vote would have been prevented by requiring photo ID.  In that case, a woman voted for Donald Trump on her deceased mother’s behalf because her mom was a huge Trump fan and had passed away just days before the presidential election.

Apart from being completely unnecessary, the biggest problem with the proposed Voter ID requirement is that it will function as a 21st century poll tax to silence African American votes–which is precisely its intent.  A report from the Budget and Tax Center says that 1 in 20 voters in Mecklenburg County don’t have a DMV-issued ID.  African Americans constitute 33% of voters in Mecklenburg but make up 50% of voters who lack ID.  The cost of securing ID is estimated at about $100 including lost wages, travel, and associated fees.  That cost will be borne largely by people of color who can least afford it. How many will opt not to vote when faced with a choice between casting a ballot and putting food on the table?

This is not the first time the current GOP supermajority has used Voter ID to try to disenfranchise African Americans.  In 2016, a federal court struck down 2013 election reforms passed by the North Carolina General Assembly, ruling that they were “enacted with racially discriminatory intent.”  The court’s ruling stated that the legislation–which included strict photo ID requirements–targeted African American voters “with almost surgical precision.”  That court battle cost North Carolina taxpayers approximately $11 million, and we’ll be the ones paying for the next battle as well if this amendment passes.  On November 6, North Carolina voters need to be sure that this 21st century poll tax is defeated.

 

Don’t believe NC campaign rhetoric! Easily check incumbents’ voting records on catastrophic education changes.

It’s that time of the election cycle when silver tongues are at their busiest.  The long overdue breaking of the North Carolina GOP’s General Assembly supermajority is at hand, and many of those in office are making increasingly desperate claims in an effort to hold on to power.  Those claims include assertions that the major education reforms of the past 8 years have been good for North Carolina’s children.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The truth is the last 8 years have been catastrophic for public education in our state.  Our leadership has prioritized tax cuts for the rich over funding for our crumbling schools.  They’ve enacted legislation which buries 3rd graders under piles of tests and threatens them with retention if they still struggle with reading.  They’ve opened the floodgates to charter schools, deepening racial and economic segregation in our state. They’ve implemented a school report card system which measures levels of poverty more than it does academic success, unfairly stigmatizing our most needy schools as failures.  And the majority of those reforms have been made through legislation inserted into budgets, deliberately avoiding committee processes allowing for public debate and modifications by members of the General Assembly that are so essential to developing good policy.

Public education in NC is a shell of what it was 8 years ago.  But there is good news. Voters are now in a position to remove the leaders that have supported the harmful policies this supermajority has enacted–as long as their votes are informed.  Rather than be swayed by charming campaign rhetoric and slick graphics, North Carolina residents need to look at how those in power have actually voted. Fortunately, Heather Scott, candidate for Board of Education in Wake County, just made that a whole lot easier.

Heather created this helpful chart of harmful education policies complete with bill numbers to help you easily look up which current state legislators voted to support them.

To look up the vote history for any of the legislation referenced on the chart, follow these simple steps:

*Browse to ncleg.net

*Set the search options at the top to ‘full site search’

*Plug in the bill number from Heather’s chart and click ‘Go’

*Select the version of the bill labeled ‘Information/History,’ and verify that you’re looking at the relevant bill as bill numbers are recycled

*Scroll down to Vote History,  and click on the blue text that says ‘PASS’ for the final version of the bill, [S] for Senate and [H] for House.

*You will see who voted ‘Aye’ and who voted ‘No’ on the legislation.

(*Note that the search function at ncleg.net can be uncooperative at times.  I often have better luck using Google to find the Vote History for specific NC bills.)

Big thanks to Heather Scott for doing the research and developing a graphic to help ensure that North Carolina voters can vote for pro-public education candidates on November 6.

New research indicates suspending young boys doesn’t change their behavior

A new study out of the University of Michigan finds that kindergartners and first graders who are suspended from school are likely to be suspended again in elementary school.  The trends are especially elevated for African American male students and call into question the effectiveness of suspending young children in order to change future behavior.

Researcher Zibei Chen of the University of Michigan School of Social Work says suspensions in the first two years of school can begin a downward trend that is difficult to correct:  “Not only are children who are suspended at a young age missing out on time spent in early learning experiences, but they are also less likely to be referred to services and supports they need to thrive in later school years.”

Key findings of the study:

  • Boys rated by teachers as aggressive, defiant and disruptive are more likely to be suspended than girls. They are also less engaged in school.
  • Girls rated by teachers as disruptive and lacking in parental school involvement are more likely to be suspended.
  • Significant predictors of suspension in kindergarten and first grade also predicted suspension one and three years later.
  • Boys and African-American students are more likely to be suspended than girls and white and Hispanic students, respectively, the study indicated.

 

Researchers suggest that schools look at predictors of early elementary suspension and develop interventions to address them.

As Hurricane Florence approaches, Charlotte-area children get a real life lesson in empathy

emergency shelter, East Meck High School gymnasium

Yesterday I found myself, just like all the other teachers in my school, leading a monthly character lesson.  This one happened to be on empathy. My students and I talked about the novel Wonder and the importance of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with those in need of support.  We discussed how we can make the world a better place through how we choose to treat others.  Students dutifully participated in the activity, but it felt very theoretical—probably because it was.

Just a few hours later, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools announced school closures for Thursday and Friday in response to the threat posed to North Carolina by Hurricane Florence.  The statement opened by saying “ Together, we can be the neighbors we teach our students to be.” It continued

Hurricane Florence has forced evacuations to emergency shelters and we must consider safety in new ways. CMS is proud to serve our state and region by opening several CMS school campuses as emergency shelters led by the Red Cross in partnership with other agencies. Emergency shelters opened today for evacuees at CMS high school campuses including East Mecklenburg, South Mecklenburg, North Mecklenburg, Olympic and Ardrey Kell. Emergency shelters at additional schools may be opened.

 

These emergency shelters are staffed and provisioned by the Red Cross with support from partner agencies to meet shelter, medical, nutrition, comfort, safety and security needs. CMPD and CMS-PD are supporting shelters with officers, equipment and communications assistance.

 

CMS believes that supporting our neighbors in need is the right thing to do for our state, community and people affected by Hurricane Florence

Parent reactions to CMS’s decision were predictably mixed, with some praising the move but others choosing to see the issue only in terms of the personal inconvenience posed by unexpectedly having to take care of their own children:

This morning I took my son and daughter to East Meck High School under sunny blue skies to see shelter preparations first hand.  On the way there we talked about what 30+” of rain and winds over a hundred miles an hour can do to your home, of the destruction caused by storm surge and flash flooding, of the implications of living with no electricity or clean water for days on end.  

When we got to the high school, evacuees had just begun to trickle in.  In the gymnasium, dozens of cots with Red Cross blankets on them lined the floor in neat rows.  A handful of kids sat playing games and coloring at a table and a gentleman sat alone in the bleachers reading his Bible.  An enthusiastic group of volunteers stood ready to welcome some of the more than one million people expected to evacuate coastal areas of the Carolinas.  It was a powerful lesson for my kids in the importance of identifying with how others are feeling and providing support when we’re able to do so.

emergency shelter, East Meck High School gymnasium

I’ll grant you that there probably aren’t a lot of CMS students complaining about having some unexpected days off school, whatever the reason.  But let’s not miss the opportunity for them to learn an essential, real-life lesson. Our kids won’t learn to be the people we want them to be through hearing us talk.  They’ll learn it through watching our actions. And today I’m very proud of the actions that my school district and community are taking to provide help to those in need.

East Meck High School

Berger’s education claims are lipstick on a pig

As official public school test results were released this week, Senator Phil Berger sang the praises of North Carolina’s Republican legislature’s education policy.  The new batch of GOP campaign graphics he tweeted spoke of effective ‘major education reforms’ which have strengthened student literacy, among other things.

Time for a little fact checking.

Berger’s major education reform when it comes to literacy was the Read to Achieve initiative.  When Read to Achieve was passed in 2012, the legislation was intended to end social promotion and help 3rd graders avoid what Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger called the “economic death sentence” awaiting students who are unable to read proficiently. The initiative attempted to improve reading by increasing the volume of assessment in grades K-3 and ratcheting up the threats of retention, essentially punishing children for not being able to read well enough in early grades.  That’s not the approach an effective teacher would take. A good educator works to understand where the child is coming from and develop unique supports that best fit his or her individual circumstances. A good educator knows that punitive measures seldom result in long term success.

Take a look at how Berger’s education reform has really impacted student literacy:

Apart from a 0.1% increase from 2015-16 to 2016-17, third grade reading proficiency in North Carolina has declined every single year since Read to Achieve was implemented and is down a whopping 5% overall, with last year’s test results showing the sharpest decline.

The data is clear that Berger’s Read to Achieve initiative has completely failed in its goal of strengthening student literacy.  It’s dishonest and insulting to the intelligence of North Carolina voters to claim otherwise in an effort to gain political support.

We’re two months away from the most important elections in recent memory, and Berger is opposed by Jen Mangrum, an educator with her own ‘major education reforms’ in mind.  Those reforms include substantial teacher pay raises, a reduction in the avalanche of standardized tests our children are subjected to as a result of Read to Achieve, and measuring school success in a fair and equitable manner.

Public education in North Carolina is in critical condition as a result of the GOP supermajority’s policies.   We need to vote for candidates who believe that public education is the cornerstone of building the society that we want in North Carolina.  And we need to hold our current leadership accountable for their failed policies, especially when they try to spin them as successes.

After all, you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.

 

Senator Jen Mangrum would be a game changer for education in North Carolina

Jen at May 16 Rally for Respect in Raleigh (photo credit Jen Mangrum)

Recently I had the pleasure of talking with Jen Mangrum, a UNC-Greensboro professor in teacher education and first time candidate for office who is running for the Senate seat currently held by the most powerful man in North Carolina–Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger.  

Jen told me what makes her tick, what concerns her about trends in education in NC, and how Phil Berger’s rise to holding a virtual monopoly on political power has weakened democracy in our state.  I offer up much of our conversation here in the hopes that it will be useful as North Carolina voters educate themselves ahead of our most critical election in years.

Jen always knew she wanted to be a teacher.  She was raised by two educators–her mom was a kindergarten teacher who taught Jen through her example to be ready to stand up for what you believe in.  Early in her career she fought for female teachers to have the right to wear pants to work since she often found herself sitting on the floor with her students.  Another time, there was a child in the community named Buddy who had cerebral palsy, and the school’s administration didn’t want to place him in a mainstream classroom because of the difficulty dealing with his special needs.  Jen’s mom fought for him to be allowed to be part of her class. He was admitted and later became a pediatrician.

Jen’s father was a career Marine, fighting in World War 2, Korea, and Vietnam.  He retired in 1967 and decided to become an elementary teacher, earning first his GED, then his associate’s degree from the local community college, then graduating from UNC-W and becoming a fourth grade teacher at high-poverty Bell Fork Elementary in Onslow County.

When Jen’s mother was 49, she was getting ready for school one day and had a massive heart attack that ended her life.  Not knowing where to go when her father left in the ambulance, Jen went to school. She knew that her teachers cared about her and that it was a safe place to be.  It comes as no surprise that a child who would seek out her teachers on the worst day of her life would later feel called to become a teacher herself.

Jen reading to kindergarten class (photo credit Jen Mangrum)

Jen’s favorite part about teaching is being part of the community and being close to the families that she serves.  She loves staying connected with those students and families over time and seeing years later the adults that the kids she taught in third grade have become.  Her belief that education has the power to lift people up and transform their lives is a big part of why she’s so troubled by trends in North Carolina’s public education system under the current supermajority and under the Senate leadership of Phil Berger.

Many of the problems we see in public education today can be traced back to the No Child Left Behind Act, which ushered in our current era of high stakes testing, shifted the way teachers worked, and paved the way for the privatization of education.  Jen notes that when there is money to be made, it changes the primary goal to pursuit of personal profit. Public education is the heart of democracy, and our goals need to remain preparing students to be informed citizens who are in a position to lead happy, high quality lives.  Instead, we have a current system in our state where we stigmatize schools that suffer from high poverty as failing schools, then move to turn them over to private, for-profit entities instead of trying to deal with the root causes of poverty. We have high teacher turnover in our state and continue to struggle to attract students to our universities’ teacher preparation programs.  We’ve long since lost the status we once held as a national leader in public education.

In terms of her opponent’s role in the downward trend we’ve seen in education in North Carolina, Jen points out that Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger holds all the cards, and everyone must fall into line behind him by virtue of his position or risk his wrath.  Because of the power in his authority to bring bills to the floor, Berger is able to single-handedly prevent legislation from moving forward, even if every single member of the Senate is in favor of it. For example, NC Senator Jeff Jackson has attempted to close a loophole unique to North Carolina law which prevents individuals from revoking consent after a sexual act has begun, even if the encounter becomes violent.  It’s a common sense move that should have broad, bipartisan support.  Although nobody has specifically come out in opposition to the bill, it has mysteriously stalled in the Senate Rules committee.  When interviewed by the Fayetteville Observer last year after Jackson’s third attempt to amend the law, Senator Berger said, “There are a lot of times that folks will come to us, and want us (to) ‘Change this law now!’  And I just don’t know that’s the way we need to respond to things when you’ve got a period of 30 years where apparently the law has been unchanged, and no one has brought this to anybody’s attention. At least, I’m not aware of it.”  No one except for maybe Jeff Jackson. Three times.

In the most recent short session, proponents of public education were eagerly waiting for the General Assembly to take up a proposed $1.9 billion school bond for inclusion on the November general election ballot.  The bond would have helped address $8.1 billion in statewide capital needs identified by the Department of Public Instruction in 2015-16.  It enjoyed bipartisan rank and file support and sponsorship by chairs of education committees in both the House and the Senate. Again, Phil Berger would not allow the legislation to move forward.  It’s incredibly frustrating that one individual who doesn’t share the values most of us have can prevent much-needed progress, but Jen reminded me that voters ultimately decide whether he keeps that power or not.

In terms of her own vision for education in North Carolina, Jen supports paying teachers fairly to demonstrate that we value public education in our state. She would like to see masters pay reinstated as well as the full Teaching Fellows Program which was eliminated by the General Assembly in 2011.  She would like to see a reduction in the testing volume which is currently not developmentally appropriate and narrows the curriculum, leaving less time and attention to the arts, the sciences, and social studies in the elementary grades. She supports moves toward determining the success of our schools using multiple measures, trusting teachers as professionals and giving them the creative freedom that they need to do their jobs.  Jen wants to see North Carolina known nationally for its birth to pre-K, k-12, and higher education continuum and believes that electing pro-education legislators is the key to seeing that transformation come true.

Jen teaching at UNC-Greensboro (photo credit Jen Mangrum)

There is so much at stake in the 2018 election.  We need to vote for candidates who believe that public education is the cornerstone of building the society that we want in North Carolina.  But as we look for candidates who meet that description, it’s equally important that we carefully review the work of our current leaders and decide whether or not we want to take away their power.  In the case of future Senator Jen Mangrum, voters are in a position to both elect the strongest pro-education candidate imaginable and remove the greatest obstacle to progress in our state.

Interested in supporting Jen’s campaign?  You can find her donation page here