The record on education
Phil Kirk, chairman emeritus of the State Board of Education, says the media has distorted the records of Gov. Pat McCrory and the Republican-led General Assembly on several issues, including how much the state allocated for public education.
Indeed, the party in power points to figures showing education spending rising by almost 4 percent, while others point to a comparison that includes inflation and student enrollment and shows a 2 percent cut.
But most supporters of the schools don’t need the media or a chairman emeritus to tell them that recent legislative action has done little to help teachers meet the rising demands of educating our state’s children.
Last week the Southern Education Foundation released a study saying that, for the first time, more than half of the children in public schools in the South and West are from low-income families. According to Kids Count, the percentage of N.C. school children on free and reduced price lunch grew from 48.4 percent in 2007-08 to 56 percent in 2011-12. In Rowan, it went from 49.8 percent to 61.9 percent.
Out of 1.4 million students in the state, more than 803,000 are from low-income families. What did legislators concerned about the plight of these children do during the last legislative session? Did they decrease class size? No, they increased it. Did they provide more support staff? No, they discontinued funding for thousands of teaching assistants.
What did lawmakers do to help hundreds of thousands of children from low-income families? They added a voucher program so up to 2,500 children can attend private school.
This is not to say that the General Assembly and McCrory completely neglected public education. But in the rush to reform — a new grading system to rate schools, the end of teacher tenure, more money for technology, changes in testing — they flubbed on a couple of major points.
One is the voucher issue. Even Kirk takes issue with that. Siphoning much-needed funds away from public schools to send children to private schools, however small the number, is a big step in the wrong direction.
And lawmakers shot themselves and their governor in the foot by refusing to give teachers any kind of across-the-board raise. Teachers have received one pay increase in the last six years — a whopping 1.2 percent. This year the legislature funded merit raises for 25 percent of them. What does that say to the other three-fourths of our teaching corps? Too bad?
North Carolina’s average teacher salary plummeted down in state rankings as the General Assembly, under Democratic leadership, dealt with the recession. Republicans had the power to do something about that this year, but they chose not to. Legislators may have increased the allocation for schools, but they dissed the people at the head of the class. That’s what people will remember.