School funding disparities discussed


By Lindell John Kay
Staff Writer

Friday, August 5, 2016

Democratic state lawmakers provided attendees with eye-opening information about state and local education Thursday issues at a town hall meeting.

There's no magic bullet when it comes to solving education issues, said N.C. Sen. Angela Bryant, D-Nash.

“We have to get parents involved or our schools will change right in front of our eyes and we won't know what happened,” Bryant said.

The lefislators provided handouts on education legislation regarding charter schools, the controversial Achievement School District model for the lowest performing schools and the new Lab School model included in the state budget. The meeting, held at Rocky Mount City Hall, was hosted by Save Our Schools, Democracy North Carolina and other local and state civic groups.

Bryant also encouraged attendees to get involved in their county and school boards' decision-making processes now.

“We cannot do what was done before — wait until schools were built then complain our schools are falling apart,” Bryant said. “It’s not the county commissioners’ money, it’s your money.”

A particular item that needs watching is possible loophole language in the new funding law that prevented the split of Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools, Bryant said.

A provision allows the Edgecombe County Board of Commissioners to fund students in Edgecombe County Public Schools at a different level than students in Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools.

The Rev. Roosevelt Higgs, who brought up the issue, said he wants to see students in Edgecombe County funded at the same level as students in Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools.

“It's a loophole that could cause problems,” Bryant said. “It's something we're going to have to monitor to ensure students are funded equally. Differences in financing have always been at the root of the problems.”

N.C. Rep. Shelly Willingham, D-Edgecombe, said hopefully with the new CSX terminal coming to town and new likely tenants for the Kingsboro Industrial Site, funding won't be an issue for the Edgecombe County commissioners by 2020 when that board will have to carry the entire load without Rocky Mount's help.

N.C. Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram, D-Northampton, explained how early colleges are underfunded so money can be funneled into a reserve fund for private school vouchers.

“They're putting money in a treasure chest for 10 years down the line when public school students need that money now,” Ingram-Smith said.

Early college high schools have proven track records, but Republican lawmakers would rather send taxpayer dollars to private schools that ban gay students, Ingram-Smith said.

“As an educator, I'm outraged,” Ingram-Smith said, adding that the vouchers were just another tool being used to dismantle public education.

N.C. Rep. Bobbie Richardson, D-Franklin, spoke about the Achievement School District model, which is similar to charter schools, but they're run by for-profit outside agencies.

A couple of schools in both Nash and Edgecombe counties could be selected for the program model that has already failed in other states, Richardson said.

The meeting ended with roundtable discussions and a call to action for attendees.