UPDATE 6/28/16–In the final days of this legislative session, the NC General Assembly is currently on the cusp of approving an Achievement School District to take over five low performing schools and turn them over to a for-profit charter operators. The budget bill includes a teacher pay scale that stagnates pay at year 15. Current legislation also weakens oversight of charter schools, included online charters, and pumps more money into a voucher plan that puts taxpayer funds in the hands of completely unaccountable charter schools. All while we have record numbers of students in poverty.
As a life-long NC resident, I would like to thank all the businesses and celebrities who have boycotted North Carolina because of HB2 and its anti-LGBT stance (the bill is bad in many other ways if you are interested in learning more or are misguided enough to think it is about “bathroom safety” then please read this). Seriously, there are signs that the boycotts are working and many North Carolinians are also outraged by the law and grateful for the support. While I appreciate the passion for civil rights of our state’s citizens, I do wish there was as much passion about the rights of our students to a quality public education.
What if celebrities and businesses boycotted our state because of our lawmaker’s open war on public education and its clear violation of the civil rights of minority and disadvantaged students? What if we could all demonstrate as much passion about the educational rights of our citizens as their protections against other forms of discrimination?
The war that Republican lawmakers have waged on public schools in North Carolina has been well documented. Despite over a $400 million tax surplus, our lawmakers have continued to reduce education funding and have failed to fully address funding equity issues that our state courts have found unconstitutional. Teachers in this state do not have collective bargaining rights and are forbidden to strike by state law. Regardless, teachers have still found themselves under attack with the elimination of career status for teachers who have not already earned them. At this point, a majority of teachers in the state no longer have these very meager due process rights. Despite the fact that our “union” already has no teeth, they have thrown various obstacles to dues collection in an attempt to reduce membership. Next in their crosshairs is health care for retirees. According to the legislative rumor mill, another ace up the GOP’s sleeve is a plan to abolish elected school boards across the state.
Still not satisfied, the Republicans have salted the earth through destroying our teacher education pipeline. With no defensible reasons, they defunded the NC Teaching Fellows program, an excellent program that recruited diverse, high achieving high school students an provided them with scholarship loans to study education and teach in our schools. With stagnant pay and the elimination of salary supplements for master’s degrees, our quality collegiate programs in teacher education are slowly being starved. Enrollment is now down over 30% in these programs.
The state has embraced vouchers as well lax oversight of charters that has produced dramatic school resegregation. As a result, resources have been drained even further from public schools that serve disadvantaged students and students of color. After years of tapping our rainy day funds and the generosity of our local government to offset cuts, my district faces a budget crisis this year. Many of us in the district are very concerned about the frightening budget realities that await us next year and how they will impact our ability to serve students. Simply put, good teachers are leaving the classroom and the candidate pool; well let’s just say she ain’t what she used to be. This is due in no small part to the unmanaged growth of charter schools in our area. Despite the fact that our district has a 28% child poverty rate, most local charters do not provide transportation or lunch. According to census data, the county population is 40% white but our public school district now has a population of only 18% white students. Regardless of this fact, charter schools in our state continue to receive funding and support from educational reform philanthropists who claim to want to improve educational outcomes for poor and minority students.
So why don’t the education reformers and billionaire educational philanthropist care? Before the GOP takeover of our state, we had a generally excellent and fairly progressive public education system. We had functioning accountability system (that existed before NCLB and was better designed) and high standards (better than Common Core). Measures of student success were showing improvement, gaps were being narrowed, and areas of dysfunction and inequity were being identified and addressed with actual deliberate speed. Educational innovation was being fostered in many places (If you don’t believe me, you can start your research by perusing some historic policy documents here).
Unfortunately those facts don’t fit within the neoliberal educational reform narrative. This narrative says that public schools are failing, specifically failing poor and minority students, with poor teachers, low standards, and lack of accountability primarily to blame. The only solution is tougher measures of accountability and destroying the “failing” bureaucratic and corrupt system and replacing it with charters. While this scenario may have the slimmest basis in reality in a few contexts, the fact is that is not (and has never been) the case in many places, including North Carolina. The narrative leaves no room for the fact that in many cases public schools are not just the lesser of several evils but in fact were already meeting many of the goals of real public school reform.
In NC, public school advocates feel unjustly abandoned and vilified by the very folks who should be our allies. In the name of “improving” public education, the reformers are willing to throw out the bathwater, the baby, and the tub…and go ahead and burn the house down for good measure.
Where is the national liberal outrage in response to the violation of our children’s civil rights here in North Carolina? The resounding silence and inaction from education reformers makes them just as culpable as the Republicans on this front. How about some outside financial support for lawsuits addressing these issues? How about some support for the federal legal action necessary to give teachers full union rights in our state? (What a great opportunity to close that pesky hole in reformer logic that says that teacher unions are to blame for bad schools). How about some advocacy for charter accountability? How about philanthropists refusing any more support for charter schools in NC until our state beefs up oversight? How about business like eBay refusing to move jobs to our state until public school funding is increased? How about some support for public school lobbying efforts in our state so that they can compete with the lobbying efforts and campaign donations from for-profit charter management companies? Hell, at the very least, how about blog post or two on the topic on those well-funded education reform “communications” websites?
At this rate there will be no public school system left in our state to reform. For those misguided enough to think that is a good thing, let me point out that this is a state of almost 10 million people with less that 600 completely unregulated private schools and 200 barely regulated charter schools statewide. This remarkably regressive group of NC lawmakers is terrifying both because of their deliberate cunning on one hand and their wanton recklessness on the other.
Just think of what we could accomplish if we could muster just a fraction of the national moral outrage over HB2 and direct it to saving North Carolina’s public school system.