The public education system in this country was created for two purposes – to prepare our youth to be successful in a career of choice and to provide knowledge and skills that will make them informed and engaged citizens.
I am sure I am not off-track by saying that the majority of our renowned scholars, doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, everyday people and yes, politicians, received their educational anchors in a public school system. Now, in this era that stresses preparedness in order to be competitive in a global economy, the Republican legislative majorities in this and other states are on a crusade to destroy the very system that gave them the foundation to launch their careers. They have aggressively passed legislation that eliminates equal educational opportunities for all students as well as the principles of social justice.
Republican legislative majorities in states across this country are becoming demolition crews and using their wrecking balls to demolish public school systems from all angles. Here in North Carolina this crew’s wrecking balls are poised to hit all phases of public education from demoralizing teachers to draining the system dry. They have voted to cut spending on education by $482 million over the next two years, eliminate approximately 3,800 teacher assistants, increase class sizes, end tenure, end pay step increases for teachers who earn master’s degrees, declare teacher certification meaningless and phase out the N.C. Teaching Fellows Program. How’s that for starters?
To further dismantle the public school system, this wrecking crew has given the go-ahead to expand charter schools, eliminate some of their accountability restrictions and decrease the number of required elementary teachers with teacher certification. This controversial change of decreasing the number of teachers who are certified in charter schools is the brainchild of N.C. Sen. Jerry Tillman. Sen.Tillman asserts that there is no evidence that a licensed teacher is a good teacher. For that matter, there are people in all professions that could be labeled as good or bad at what they do, but is that enough to justify eliminating the established requirements of the profession?
Since Sen. Tillman is so cavalier about flooding classrooms with non-licensed teachers I wonder if he would be willing to have a surgical procedure performed by someone without a medical degree, a non-surgeon, or have someone represent him in a court case who is not a lawyer? I think not.
The dismantling of public education marches on with the introduction of vouchers or so called “Opportunity Scholarships.” State lawmakers have set aside $10 million to help pay tuition to private schools for approximately 2,500 students starting in the 2014-15 school year and are proposing to raise funding up to $50 million per year thereafter. It appears the concern about how taxpayer dollars are spent is a non-issue when it comes to funding private education. If parents choose to send their children to private schools, that is a personal choicer and taxpayer dollars should not be used to pay any part of the bill. Who will really benefit from these so-called “Opportunity Scholarships?” Certainly not the majority of low-income students? Only a few students, if any, stand to benefit from this program. The voucher amount, even the maximum, is unlikely to allow any appreciable number of low-income families to be able to pay the cost of a private school’s tuition, even if the school is willing to admit their children. It is also unlikely that private schools will be willing to admit any meaningful number of low-income students because of the flak they will get from parents who have chosen private education for the purpose of separating their children from low-income and minority students. Remember all of the strong objections about school busing? Well, that should serve as an eye opener to predict the all too obvious outcome of these “Opportunity Scholarships.” The real winners of this voucher program will be the private schools, students already attending and students who previously dropped out because of family financial difficulties. This program is a false promise to low-income students.
So, while this Republican-led N.C. General Assembly has been busy passing legislation that is intended to turn back the clock, make the rich richer, the poor poorer, and destroy public education, the state has moved from the fifth highest in unemployment to the third highest and its progressive image has gone to the wind.
Gardenia B. Hobbs