Voters can help move NC out of the education Dark Ages

Tim Moore and Phil Berger, chief architects of the current NC public schools Dark Age

*note: this piece was originally published in the Charlotte Observer

When Tea Party Republicans took over state government in 2010, their veto-proof majority in both chambers of our General Assembly began an education policy Dark Age, churning out bill after bill that harmed our schools.

Legislators removed the cap on charter schools, and their number has since doubled.  These schools siphon money away from traditional public schools and increase racial and economic segregation, and they have failed to provide better alternatives for students who need the most help.

They cut master’s pay, making North Carolina the first state in the country to revoke advanced degree salary increases.

They slashed funding for teachers assistants.  We’ve lost 7,500 since the peak a decade ago.

Legislators created the Opportunity Scholarship voucher program, sending tens of millions of dollars each year to unaccountable schools which are legally able to discriminate based on factors like religion and sexual orientation.

They defunded the North Carolina Teaching Fellows program, a high-quality source of committed, homegrown teachers.  

Lawmakers have blocked school construction bonds from ballots, despite favorable financial conditions and a documented $8+ billion in infrastructure needs.

They passed the Read to Achieve law, expanding testing and threatening 3rd graders with retention in an ill-advised attempt at addressing reading deficiencies.  When that didn’t work, legislators added bonuses for test scores which harm morale by ignoring the contributions many members of the team have to a child’s success.  Unsurprisingly, reading outcomes have not improved.

They stripped retiree health benefits starting January 2021, making it harder to recruit and retain good teachers in North Carolina at a time when enrollment in our state’s teacher preparation programs has plummeted 35% since 2013.

But arguably the most impactful change of all has been Republican tax policy.  

Over the past decade, state legislators have passed 6 corporate tax cuts and repeatedly cut income taxes in a manner that disproportionately benefits the wealthiest among us.  According to the NC Budget and Tax Center’s Alexandra Sirota, the estimated cumulative revenue loss during that time is $12 billion.  Those are dollars which could have hired teaching assistants or repaired leaky gym roofs.

Throughout the course of this Dark Age, one of the biggest overall failures of the Republican majority has been its approach to the process of governing.  Many of the aforementioned laws were passed in budget bills, meaning they didn’t go through a deliberative committee process but rather were written behind closed doors and then passed without any opportunity for meaningful conversations.  That’s not how effective policy is written, and it’s not the kind of government the people of North Carolina deserve.

When Governor Cooper was elected in 2016 and then the legislative supermajority was broken in 2018, I held out some naive hope that things might change and that there could be a new willingness on the part of House and Senate Republicans to work across the aisle because of the governor’s veto power.

Unfortunately it hasn’t worked out that way at all.  The fact that we’re still operating on the 2018 budget is clear evidence:  the toxic culture that developed under the supermajority, one in which loyalty to party trumps any desire for meaningful collaboration on behalf of North Carolinians, has continued unabated.  

A full decade of backwards priorities and terrible leadership has led to this crucial election at a time when our schools are desperate for change.  We need people in power who see public education as a human right and not a commodity.  We need leaders who truly believe that our children deserve the opportunities that a high quality public education can provide.  

Breaking the majorities in the House and the Senate will allow pro-public education legislators to end North Carolina’s education Dark Age and get to work building the K-12 education system we need.

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