Ruled By Fear

When I first heard about Class Size Chaos, I went and read the law mandating new, small class sizes.  My heart leapt when I read its enforcement provision — in any school system that failed to comply with the new law, the superintendent would lose his or her salary.

“Bingo!”  I thought.   Here was the solution to the whole problem — superintendents in districts that lacked the money or the space to comply with the class size law without damaging the overall quality of their students’ education could simply say “no, thank you” to the NCGA.  And I would be happy to be the first one to line up to donate money toward replacing the salaries of the superintendents brave enough to take such a stand stand.

But when I suggested as much to my school board representative, he shut me down quickly.  His response indicated that he feared something far worse than the unfunded mandate currently hurting our children:  the NCGA has the power to dissolve and destroy individual school districts, and there is no indication that they’d hesitate to do so.

At the time, I didn’t quite believe him.  Surely, even if a few of the NCGA’s leaders were demonstrably hostile to our county and its school board (remember this?), the larger body wouldn’t just sit by and let those few individuals be so vindictive?

Then I started visiting legislators.  And they kept saying variations on the same theme:  “I’d like to help you, but HB-13 won’t go anywhere until Berger, Barefoot and Moore want it to.”  It became clear — despressingly, enragingly clear — that my school board representative was right.  If the NCGA’s leadership decided to destroy our public schools, this batch of cowards wouldn’t just sit by and let it happen; they’d help.  Sure, they might mewl privately that they were on our side, but they would take no action that would anger the folks they clearly thought they served:  Phil Berger and Tim Moore.

And sure enough, no sooner than we had started gaining traction on class size than the NCGA created a commission to study breaking up our school system.  It was an effective threat — one school administrator specifically asked me to stop working to fix class size, because the very existence of our school system now hung in the balance.

All of this points to a few conclusions.  First, this General Assembly cannot be trusted.  They are and have been willing to use their power in ways that harm our state, in service of their own whims and fits of pique.  No member of the currently ruling party deserves to keep his or her seat, unless they have been standing against the leadership’s abuses in both word and deed.  And, as the research for our voting guide indicates, few such souls exist.

Second, no governing body in this state should have the unilateral power to destroy a local governmental unit without a compelling reason.  In North Carolina, our balance of power is way out of whack — while we have three separate branches of government, the branches are not equal.  The legislature enjoys a supreme position over the executive and judicial branches.  And while that’s concerning in the normal course of business, in the hands of a vindictive, petty, power-mad legislature such as our current one, it’s downright dangerous.

Our school systems  are (justifiably) afraid to say “No.”  And too many of our legislators are  are unwilling to say “No” to their own party for the benefit of their constituents.  So it’s our job as parents and as citizens to stand firm in their stead.    Say “No” to any attempts to further expand the legislature’s power (that means voting “no” on the Constitutional amendments on the ballot).  Say “No” to further attempts to harm our schools.  And when faced with the opportunity at the ballot box in November, say “No” to all candidates who has served their party, not their constituents.  Let’s let them fear us for once.

Education Roundup, 8/24/18

Hey all,

Some of the stuff I’ve been reading this week:

One of our candidates for Wake County School Board wrote this, on wanting the best for our kids:

An interesting piece about some of the false assumptions underlying the push to privatize schools:

From an NC teacher, some information about the NCGA’s disastrous principal pay plan:

And Stu Egan wrote movingly about the many people it takes to make a school environment complete:


Stuck in Committee

As Save Our Schools NC members begin to put together the voter guide there are some who will stand out above others.  There are those in the General Assembly that worked tirelessly to fight for public education, but there are those who actively hindered public education legislation.  Phil Berger continually kept public education bills stuck in committee.  On May 16th, we chanted Remember in November.  So, here is a very little blog post to keep our minds fresh.

When the House passed HB13, this seemed to be a reasonable solution to the class size mandate.    I assumed it would go quickly through committee and then get a vote in the Senate.   The house passed it unanimously so it must be a solid fix to a major problem, right?  Being new to the political scene in North Carolina, I had no idea why passing the house meant very little.  I was told point blank by everyone, unless Senator Berger wants to pass the bill, the bill will die in committee.  I was livid that this was politics in our state.  I’m still livid.  With public pressure, we did eventually get a vote on HB13, but by the time Berger’s Senate got a hold of it, it was not the same bill.

HB13 isn’t the only education bill I’ve watched die.  There are countless education bills that were left to die in committee.  Bills like the state wide school bond were just left to rot in Phil Berger’s own personal trash pile.

I’m so tired of watching our public education die in committee.  I would be terribly naïve to believe that the election in November will bring about a complete change to our General Assembly.   However, it is our job as citizens of the state, and voters to do whatever we can to put those who hinder public education out of a job.  It is our job to put those who follow power blindly out of a job.  Now is not the time to be timid.  Now is the time to take a stand.

There will be flashy ads supporting Berger.  He no doubt will spout numbers and claim to have helped public education.  In the end, remember, it was Phil Berger who caused the class size mandate issue, and then hindered our fight to end the chaos.  He never took responsibility and he needs to be voted out.

Those of you in Senate District 30 are now some of the most powerful voters in our state.  In this election, you are the center of power in North Carolina not Raleigh.  Make your vote count.  Jen Mangrum will fight for public education.  Phil Berger will only drag it down.





Give a Little Bit

I don’t know about you all, but it feels like there are way too many things competing for my attention right now.  There’s back-to-school, and PTA is ramping up, and activities to lead and/or haul children to.  And, as one helpful soul on Twitter points out every morning, Election Day is fast approaching.

With so much going on in our state, our country and in the world, it’s all to easy to get overwhelmed.  There are so many needs, so many issues, so many choices.  Should I canvass for my local precinct, or for a specific candidate?  Maybe I should be working on registering voters.  Is it better to focus a lot of energy on one issue, or a little bit on several issues?  Some days, the sheer volume of choices renders me paralyzed — I can’t decide what to do, so I do nothing at all, which doesn’t help anyone.

In the past, faced with this paralysis, I have relied upon one simple trick to break it:  I decide to do one thing.  Just one thing, nothing else. The only rules are that I have to choose that one thing quickly, and it must be something I can do fairly immediately (I cannot promise myself I’m going to get started on September 31st and call it a day).

More often than not, doing one thing makes me feel like maybe I can do another thing.  And sometimes, even a third thing.  But even if it doesn’t — if I just do my one thing — then at least I’ve done something.

In case you, like me, are trying to decide what you should do, here is a list of suggestions:

  1.  Choose one issue on the ballot this year and learn all about it;
  2. Tell someone what you’ve learned;
  3. Join up with your local political precinct leaders and see if they need help making sure people vote (spoiler alert:  they do);
  4. Find a candidate you believe in, and join her (or his) campaign;
  5. Volunteer for a voter registration drive;
  6. Run a voter registration drive in your neighborhood or through your school;
  7. Contribute to the SoSNC Voter Guide (comment here if you’re interested!)
  8. Find a group that works on an issue you care about, and see if they have any election-season activities such as issue-based canvassing;
  9. Be a poll greeter;
  10. Vote;
  11. Bring a friend to vote;
  12. Bring lots of friends to vote.

Education Roundup 8/17

Hi all, and welcome to another education roundup.  Here is some of the writing we’ve found interesting this week:

The N&O weighed in on the NC Tax Cap amendment and what it would do to schools:

From the Washington Post, a good look at the legacy of Arne Duncan, President Obama’s Secretary of Education:

Stu Egan wrote about teacher training, the NCGA’s use of our children as pawns in the class size debacle, and about the SBE:

And peeks under the veil of “non-profit” charter schools:


The PTA Tax

When the NC General Assembly leaves gaps in funding it’s sometimes the PTA that picks up the slack.  PTAs across the state fund iPads,  smart TVs, and library books.  We have carnivals, bake sales, restaurant take overs, and fun runs.  We get corporations and businesses to sponsor playground upgrades in exchange for advertising.  I call this the PTA tax.

PTAs seem to be paying more than their fair share.  If you aren’t directly involved, it is way more than just decorating of hallways and teacher appreciation projects.  PTAs now pay for equipment.  We pay for teacher training and their travel expenses.  Some PTAs have set up food pantries and stock supply closets.  This isn’t normal.  This is an indication of an underfunded school system.

While some schools can fill gaps left by the NC General Assembly, many cannot.  Not many areas can crowd source enough  funds to pay for technology, or other classroom needs.  This leaves even greater disparities in our schools.  More than ever our zip codes are determining the quality of our schools.

All this was never intended by the founders of the PTA.  The PTA was founded to advocate for children.   It remains the core of the PTA’s mission today.  The NCPTA Mission Statement states: The overall purpose of PTA is to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children.  Bake sales aren’t mentioned.

So how do we fix this?  I suggest, we infiltrate the PTA.  Get involved in your local unit.  Be the advocacy chair, or at the very least, make sure you have an advocacy chair.  You don’t have to be president to make a difference.  When you do run a fundraiser, remind your school the reason it’s necessary.  Remind them that we are essentially being taxed by the North Carolina General Assembly.

In my heart, I’d love to call for a general strike of all PTAs across the state.  We stop fund raising and insist that our legislature do it’s job.  We let our wealthier areas feel the true pinch that our legislators have created.  Instead of fundraising, we organize parents and community members to educate others, vote, and advocate in the name of public education.

Of course in real life, my own PTA applauded my principals and then planned another restaurant takeover.   Still, PTA is an excellent way to advocate for our public schools.  We can support public schools and issues that our schools face.  Be a voice of change when you can, or simply educate.  Sometimes you have to put up with the bake sales to get to the good stuff.



Empty Words

I’m knee-deep in drafting the SoSNC voter guide this week, and one thing that we’re be looking for is legislators who have made statements in support of public education.  But of course, all statements aren’t created equal, and today I’d like to talk about one education-related boast in particular that sticks in my craw (if you read Stu Egan’s piece on bad education talking points, this one topped his list, too):

“Our budget contains more money for education than we have ever spent before.”  It’s an oft-repeated refrain, one we hear both from the General Assembly and from county commissioners, usually as the budgets they tout fall far short of funding even the basic needs of our schools.  This line bothers me not just because it is meaningless on its face, but also because of what it says about the people who say it and about their attitude toward public education.

First, on its face, the “more than ever before” statement is ridiculous.  If the purpose of a budget is to meet the financial responsibilities of the body creating it, then the success of the budget lies not its its total size, but on its ability actually to fulfill those responsibilities.  In fact, the total size of the budget is irrelevant to its adequacy.  Think about it — if my electric bill goes up because electricity has gotten more expensive and the summer’s been hot,  what happens if I send Duke Energy a check for 60% of my bill and a note saying it’s more than I’ve ever spent before?  I’ll get my electricity turned off.   The relative size of the bill matters not at all, only that it is paid.

But beyond its silliness, the statement is also revealing of a deeper (and concerning) attitude toward public education:  It casts education funding as a choice, not as a responsibility.  If we’re supposed to be grateful for any increase in education spending, no matter how inadequate, then the unstated corollary is that we should be grateful for any education funding at all.   On a state level in particular, this is problematic.

The North Carolina constitution charges the state with providing a free public education to every child in NC.  That means adequate funding for education is literally the least we should expect of the NCGA.  It’s a part of their job so basic that it’s written right into the Constitution.   A budget that falls short of full education funding is a failure, and any legislator presenting such a budget should do so with humility and a darned good explanation.   If, instead, that legislator claims the budget is a success and himself a hero merely because the budget provides some education funds, then either he misunderstands the NCGA’s constitutional responsibility, or is hoping that you do.  Don’t fall for it.

Education Roundup

Hi all, and welcome to our first weekly education roundup! This is the place where we point you towards interesting, illuminating and just plain important writing on education, in NC and around the country.

First up, Stu Egan, an educator and writer, posted this great rundown of the misleading education claims you’ll hear during this election season:

NC Policy Watch did a dive into the NC Budget, measuring how well we’re doing at investing in critical state needs, including education.  The whole report is worth a read:

And this, via Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post, is a lovely testament to the power of teachers “seeing” their students:

Finally, I want to add an older, but very valuable, report on some of the NCGA’s major education initiatives over the last several years, and why some that seemed like good ideas in other states haven’t worked here:–ED%20LAW.pdf

Tilting at Windmills.

Since February, I’ve felt a little lost.  I began my journey as a public school advocate in a time of great crisis.  I began trying to end the unfunded class size mandate.  In fact, Public Schools Forum named the class size mandate the biggest education issue in North Carolina.  As I’ve continually stated HB90, the bill that eventually passed, isn’t a cure all, but certainly no one feels like we are in a crisis.   So what does an advocate do when a crisis isn’t knocking directly on her door?

I started to feel like I was tilting at windmills.  It was the school bond, it was tax caps, it was HB514.  It was school safety and our need for more support staff like psychologist, nurses, and counselors.   It was  teachers marching and speaking of low wages, and rising medical costs.  My heart ached and my head spun.  With so few paying attention, it was hard to keep in mind that all these were very real issues.  The NC short session felt dizzying.  My efforts felt futile. It was so much easier to work on one hashtag, one issue.

I think the biggest eye opener for me was that my one issue, class size chaos, was just a symptom of a broader disease.  The broader disease is a systematic lack of funding for our public schools in North Carolina.  It might take the shape of a unfunded mandate, or a lack of teacher pay for our veteran teachers.  It might look like crumbling school buildings, lead in the pipes, or fundraisers for basic classroom needs.  It’s all the same disease.  All these problems stem from the same source, the refusal of our legislators to fully fund our public schools.

The problem is that all that doesn’t fit in a catchy hashtag.  It’s broad and hard to nail down.  There is no single bill to defeat or help pass.  It can sometimes be clumsy and complicated to convey to the public.  How do I compete with talking points that claim legislators are funding education?

Thus, I take on a new and even more difficult task than working on just one little bill, one issue.  I take on the task of getting our kids the schools they deserve.   I join countless others, who no doubt, are politically more savvy than I.  The only way I can think to truly fight the disease of under-funding our schools, is to vote.  We need to vote in true supporters of public schools, and vote out those who have done us harm.

We are not actually tilting at windmills, our giants are very real.  Keep your chin up.  Keep working.  Keep talking to your neighbor about legislators who have helped or hindered the cause of public education.   Most of all, believe our greatest victory is ahead of us.  It is November 6th election day!





Our First Post

Hi all, Renee here.  Susan and I wanted to kick off our blog by telling you a little bit about ourselves, our experiences, and what we hope to bring to the SoS blog.  For now, we plan on a 3-day-a-week posting schedule — look for posts by me on Mondays, Susan on Wednesdays, and on Friday come by for a roundup of education-related writing from around NC and the U.S.

So, about me.  I’m a lawyer by training, but for the last dozen years I’ve been a stay-at-home mom to my three kids (currently ages 6, 9 and 12).  I didn’t ever intend to be an education activist, but the Class Size issue came to my attention and I realized I could do something to fix it, and so Save Our Schools was born.  I believe, with all of my heart, that every child in NC deserves an excellent, well-rounded education, and I believe that the only way we will make that goal a reality is if the citizens of this state, especially the parents,  rise up and fight not just for our own children, but for every child in North Carolina.

Hello, I’m Susan Book.  I worked as a state employee at NC State before making the decision to stay home with my son.  My son is now 8.  We knew he was a bit different early on, and the autism diagnosis wasn’t a big shock.  That is how I became an advocate.  My son wasn’t much for communication, so I learned to be his voice when he needed help.  I soon realized that I could be an advocate for public schools, the same way I advocated for my own son’s needs.  When I joined Save Our Schools, I realized my voice could be used to amplify the needs of our teachers and students for better funding and a quality public school system.

We’re excited about our blog and hopefully it will be an easier method to share our message of fully funding our public school system.  The Facebook page isn’t going away.  The blog will just be another opportunity to reach more people.  So welcome and please share with your friends.