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James Carter: Several amendments especially bad for education

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Dr. James B. Carter teaches at Carson High School and is vice president of the Rowan-Salisbury Association of Educators.

Six amendments to the North Carolina Constitution are on the November ballot. They range from extraneous to deleterious. Several are major assaults on public education. For these reasons, the Rowan-Salisbury Association of Educators stands in solidarity with the North Carolina Association of Educators’ decision to, as the Twitter hashtag phrases it so eloquently, “nix all six.”

Consider the constitutional amendment protecting the right of the people to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife, for example. Officially known as Senate Bill 677, this amendment offers nothing of significance to existing policies and seems to exist solely as a means of fooling voters into thinking the lot of proposed amendments is equally benign.

House Bill 551 is floated as a “victim’s bill of rights.” Proponents suggest the bill will strengthen the voices of those who have experienced crimes regarding property or assault and expand court transparency. As WRAL’s Dave Hendrickson has reported, the bill offers the “right to be notified of court proceedings involving the defendant and the right to be heard at those hearings.” However, state laws regarding victims’ rights are strong already. North Carolina Policy Watch suggests the new amendment could cost the state $30 million annually and, as phrased, actually poses a threat to justice rather than expands it.

House Bill 1092, the voter ID bill, would require people to show some form of visual identification before voting. What kind of identification is unknown, and the nebulous phrasing suggests different municipalities might have the ability to determine their own requirements. Such a possibility recalls voter suppression efforts, especially regarding people of color, the poor and older voters. The bill appears to approve discrimination. If we are to remain a New South, we should fight such approvals vociferously.

These three amendments do not threaten public education as overtly as the others, though one can see how limiting some people’s right to vote could swing close school board elections and keep pro-public education candidates out of office. Two of the remaining three combine to produce similar results, however, most likely by design.

Senate Bill 814 would weaken the governor’s ability to appoint judges as needed between election cycles. Instead, the state legislature would submit two names for consideration per each judgeship needing to be filled, and the governor would have to choose from them.

Anyone who has completed a basic class in civics and governance knows why this is a harmful amendment: It destroys the checks-and-balances systems upon which so much of our republic relies. An obvious attempt at governmental overreach from a greedy legislature, this bill could make it exponentially more difficult for pro-public education policies to become law, especially given the corporate-friendly nature of this and recent state legislatures, which have favored big money over bigger education budgets.

Further, the bill would make packing the courts with extremists too easy. That might be fine if one’s particular brand of extremist is in power, but what many in our most-recent state legislatures continue to forget — even among myriad redistrictings, blame-assigning, and dubious tactics — is that eventually the other side has its day.

House Bill 913 also seeks to disrupt checks and balances and to pass power from the governor to the legislature. This bill seeks to change the State Board of Ethics and Election Enforcement. Hendrickson writes that it “would remove the governor from the ethics and elections board appointment process altogether, putting that power in the hands of the legislature.”

Imagine a superintendent of public instruction who has shown support for charters and vouchers and allowed district leaders to be pampered by the likes of Apple, even though his job is the support of public schools. Guess what? We have one of those already. Now consider what might happen when his party is handpicking the board considering ethics.

Senate Bill 75 could outright destroy any effort to improve public education. School districts are funded largely by the state. This bill caps the state income tax at 7 percent. In addition to strengthening inequalities across the board, this bill puts undue burden on local schools to find new revenue streams to keep public education afloat, much less advance teacher salaries and per-pupil expenditures. In every way, this bill is a love letter to the wealthy and to corporate interests. To teachers and students? Not so much, unless one wants to leave their local school for whatever for-profit “School, Incorporated” takes over.

These amendments range from inconsequential to catastrophic, especially concerning public education. RSAE encourages everyone to “nix all six” via voting a resounding “NO” to them all.

Dr. James B. Carter teaches at Jesse C. Carson High School and is vice president of the Rowan-Salisbury Association of Educators.

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