State lawmaker: NC must resist the ongoing radical overhaul of its public schools
In the past, North Carolina has been a leader in the South and the nation on education because we knew that investing in education is the best way to ensure a strong economy supporting working families. Unfortunately, our public schools are under assault, and the current Republican majority at the General Assembly is considering extreme legislation that would cripple our public education system.
Republicans are pushing the most radical defunding of public education we have ever seen in this state. We must look no further than the Senate’s proposed budget to see their priorities. Year over year, the Senate budget would cut total funding for public schools by 2.2% while allocating an additional $2.2 billion dollars over the next ten years for private school vouchers.
The Senate budget proposal would leave per-pupil state support 2.5% below pre-Recession levels and give teachers a pay cut when compared with inflation rates. Senate leaders also want a dramatic acceleration in tax cuts for the wealthy that will doom additional salary increases. Analysts project these proposed tax cuts to slash our total state budget by almost 20 percent —hamstringing our ability to fund public education in the future.
In May, General Assembly members visited schools across the state during the inaugural “Bring Your Legislator to School Day.” This event was an opportunity for legislators to see firsthand the needs of our students and teachers and to hear stories from educators and administrators about the reality on the ground.
Speaking to teachers at an elementary school in my district, I heard directly about the concerns of teachers — including the lack of support from our state and the effects that underfunding has had on their students (from a lack of bus drivers to being forced to spend money from their own pockets for basic supplies).
One teacher shared that her colleague, a teacher with 27 years of experience, just couldn’t take it anymore. She said “those are the types of teachers we need to retain. Their wealth of experience and ability to mentor younger teachers is irreplaceable.” And yet, Republicans have frozen teacher salaries at year 15 with no ability to even get a raise until year 25, and that is just $200 a year.
This session, House and Senate Democrats have presented a bold agenda on education that would ensure our state supports teachers and children as they progress through their educational experience. This year, my fellow House Democrats and I have sponsored legislation that would:
- Enshrine parents’ rights to send their children to fully resourced schools and classrooms equipped to provide robust mental health care, support for children with learning disabilities, and aid during emergencies such as the pandemic, and that are free of discrimination and culture-war nonsense (HB 58)
- Grant local school boards the authority to establish school calendars better suited to the needs of their communities (HB 62)
- Establish a pilot program for grants to provide students with savings for higher education (HB 217)
- Eliminate the tax burden on student debt relief (HB 345)
- Expand funds for NC Pre-K and Smart Start (HB 844)
- Provide Free Breakfast and Lunch in all public schools (HB 846)
And most importantly,
- Fully fund years 4 and 5 of the Leandro Comprehensive Plan and enact the policy changes required in the Comprehensive Remedial Plan (HB 885)
It’s in consideration of Leandro that we can most clearly see the priority differences between Democrats and Republicans for education. GOP lawmakers insist that their policies promote student and parental choice, but their decade-long refusal to comply with court orders to fund our public schools is depriving the children who have chosen to attend public schools of their constitutional right to a sound, basic education.
We know that increased funding for the voucher program is directly associated with a decreased effort to fund public schools. The Office the State Budget and Management’s recent analysis of SB 406 and HB 823 shows that total state funding for public schools would decrease by $208 million if 50% of the new voucher recipients previously attended public schools. The total cost of these bills will ultimately exceed current state appropriations for K-12 education.
Many of the counties represented by the sponsors of the voucher expansion bills will actually experience a decline in funding for their public schools. Senator Galey’s district in Alamance County would see a 3% decline. Senator Barnes’ districts in Vance, Nash and Franklin would all see 2% declines. Rep Loftis’ district in Gaston County would see a 3% decrease. And Speaker Moore’s own district in Rutherford County would see a 3% decline in public school funding.
How do the sponsors of these bills plan on providing massive new subsidies to the private school industry while still fulfilling their constitutional obligations to provide every student with access to sound public schools? We must conclude that this is not their plan. They have chosen to disregard the law and instead funnel money toward unaccountable, unregulated schools that are allowed to discriminate and employ unlicensed teachers to teach unvetted curriculum.
The sad reality is that fully funding Leandro would have cost less than the amount left unspent from our budget every single year since Judge Lee ordered the Comprehensive Remedial Plan’s enactment. The budget and policy priorities proposed by Republicans this session have furthered the assault on our public schools and have created a state of emergency. It is a gross injustice to the children of North Carolina, and it must end.