North Carolina editorial roundup

The Associated Press

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Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

Feb. 3

The Daily Reflector of Greenville on the governor's view of higher-education reform:

It just may be that Gov. Pat McCrory learned a lesson himself recently when he opined large and loud about how a liberal arts education is not all it's cracked up to be. Sometimes a good public thrashing is the best education of all.

The governor, clearly feeling his newly inaugurated oats, got into something of a "bash the ivy-covered walls" talk-fest on national radio with conservative host and former education secretary Bill Bennett, saying among other things how elitists in higher education have created a curriculum that does not lead to jobs — a situation he believes is broken and that he's the man to fix it.

With Bennett facilitating the ranting, the governor said his plan was to change the way the state's university system is funded so that it was geared toward careers more than academics. He went on to say he was having legislation drafted that would award funding to universities and community colleges "not based on butts in seats but on how many of those butts can get jobs."

Well said, indeed, and spoken like a true sophomore — with apologies to real sophomores everywhere — so well-spoken that the quote and others have now made their way far and wide, raising ire and eyebrows and just plain embarrassment across academia and elsewhere.

Obscured behind the hyperbole of McCrory's and Bennett's talk show sound bites is the reasonable notion that higher education cannot ignore the need to help prepare its charges for an ever toughening workplace. But the brash suggestion that the state should not subsidize the study of certain liberal arts pursuits is much more soapbox bluster than thoughtful policy or even constructive criticism.

University of North Carolina President Tom Ross should be taken at his word when he says the system is committed to developing "the well-educated and skilled talent pool that North Carolina needs to compete and win." This has long been the university's tradition, and with reasonable and measured discourse with the state's leadership, it will continue to adapt to the demands of today's strained job market.

North Carolina, long admired for its system of higher education, expects and deserves far more from its governor than the kind of empty sloganeering heard. It's time for such silly posturing to end and true governing, true leading, to begin. ...



Feb. 5

Winston-Salem Journal on proposed charter school legislation:

"Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater."

That old saying doesn't get much use in the Legislative Building nowadays, but a recent statement from House Speaker Thom Tillis suggests that the sentiment behind it might be returning.

With the number of charter school applications exploding and Rep. Donny Lambeth of Forsyth County suggesting that our school district become the state's first charter-school district, Tillis noticed the obvious: There's something about the way we run our public schools that is driving people to seek a new system.

But before we toss the system we've used for more than a century, and replace it with an entirely new one, it would make sense to see whether we can first fix the old system.

That is, hold onto the baby and throw out only the dirty bathwater.

Tillis says that he's heard from many system superintendents who would like to have charter-school flexibility as they run their schools, according to The Insider newsletter. That would mean more decisions made on the local level and fewer in state regulations.

There is much talk in political circles about over-regulation of schools and heavy-handedness from Raleigh. That makes good chatter, but we'd like to see some details. Exactly what rules do superintendents seek to have removed and what would they like to be able to do that they cannot do now?

Innovation was one of the original purposes of charters. What charter leaders learned was supposed to be shared with the far more numerous traditional schools.

So let's see what the charters have found, what flexibility has worked and what hasn't. Let's add to that the concerns of the local leaders.

The legislative session has just begun. There is plenty of time between now and early summer adjournment for Tillis and Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, his Senate counterpart, to hold public hearings on these questions:

What have the charters learned? What flexibility do superintendents want? How can we make traditional schools more effective and efficient? What would we give up if we changed?

The answers might just save our public schools.



Jan. 30

News & Observer of Raleigh on the legislative session:

A year ago, Republicans took charge of both houses of the General Assembly for the first time since 1896. Long denied even perfunctory input into legislation by Democrats, GOP leaders moved to brand the building as their own, with a conservative agenda that most notably, and regrettably, resulted in a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. They also moved to require voter ID at the polls, which might have in effect disenfranchised some elderly and minority voters who don't have driver's licenses.

Then-Gov. Beverly Perdue vetoed that measure, among others. That one she won. Others she lost, and the Republicans stumbled, especially when they held a midnight session to override a veto on a bill that prohibited public school teachers from having their N.C. Association of Educators dues taken out of their paychecks. It was a slap against teachers who had been critical of Republican cuts to education. ...

But now, as Republicans prepare to begin the 2013 session with even larger majorities than they had before, they have a confidence builder they didn't have last time. Republican Pat McCrory is governor and unlikely to have many, if any, veto confrontations.

Frankly, with this fresh chance at a first impression, Republican leaders would be wise to follow the words of Art Pope, the conservative Raleigh businessman who contributed to many Republican legislative campaigns and now is the governor's budget czar. At a recent appearance on public policy in Chapel Hill, Pope said Republicans do not have a "mandate" but an "opportunity."

A former legislator himself, Pope is very conservative and doubtless agrees with much of the GOP agenda, but he cautioned that Republicans now can demonstrate a skill for governing if they move judiciously. He's right. To assume that winning an election means that all of the people want everything on a particular platform is hubris.

The platform includes a voter ID law, which will now pass, along with the further dismantling of environmental and other regulations affecting business, tougher teacher tenure rules, public money in vouchers for private school expenses, tax cuts for businesses and individuals. And despite a right-to-work law on the books that makes it illegal for unions to force new employees to join them, there actually is talk of a constitutional amendment to that effect.

These are not good ideas, and they are driven by conservative ideology, not necessity or common sense. ...

The journey is theirs to chart.


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