Category Archives: Blog

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

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!