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Mission Creep

Sometimes I struggle with the fact that this is an education-focused blog, because our state (and our country) are facing so many issues that seem inextricably intertwined with educational issues, and to focus strictly on education means telling only part of the story.  This is particularly true in the case of the upcoming election, where North Carolinians are being asked to restructure our state constitution in some significant ways.  There are six amendments on the ballot this election, and according to the News & Observer, many of us aren’t even really aware that those amendments exist, much less the very high stakes involved in the changes we’re being asked to make.

So, with your indulgence, for my next several posts, I’ll be writing about each of the amendments and about why I think all six of them should be voted down.  But first, I’d like to take the opportunity today to set out where I’m coming from on the NC Constitution and why I think it shouldn’t be messed with. [Fair warning — of necessity, these next several blog posts will mention the fact that these amendments are being driven by the actions of the current NCGA majority party, which happens to be the Republicans.  I will have to ask you to trust me that if the same actions were being undertaken by Democrats, I’d be just as angry.]

I understand that Constitutions are living documents — their framers, both on a federal on state level, were human beings subject to the same foibles and failings as any other human beings.  So it’s a good thing that we can change these documents when it becomes clear that such change is necessary: to right wrongs, to make explicit human rights that had been merely implied; to deal with circumstances unforeseen by the framers.

That said, Constitutions are (or should be) serious documents, and changes to them should be undertaken with exquisite care.  When we use amendments to affect the fundamental rights of others, or to provide a short-term political boost to one party over another, we demean not only the document, but ourselves as citizens.   And when we seek, as is the case this year, to undertake a radical restructuring of the balance of power on which our entire government rests, then we must do it darned carefully.

Which brings me to my first objection to this set of amendments:  the process by which they were placed on the ballot was rushed, opaque, and marked with dishonesty and political skulduggery.  The laws putting them on the ballot were introduced mere days before they were voted on; no meaningful hearings were held, and members of the minority party — the party that represents millions of North Carolina voters — were excluded completely from the process.  The amendment language itself is, in most cases, both misleading and confusing, and the NCGA held a special session to make sure that the bipartisan board that could have provided clearer captions for each amendment would no longer be allowed to do so.   The unmistakable conclusion is that this General Assembly wants North Carolinans to be confused.  They want us not to know exactly what we’re voting for.  And that is unconscionable.

Tune in tomorrow, when we’ll be talking about separation of powers and how two of the amendments would alter that separation significantly.  But if you can’t wait until then and want more info now, please check out www.nixallsix.com.  There’s a bunch of information there, too.

 

Education Roundup, 9/7/18

Hey all,

The biggest education news in NC this week has been the state’s newest round of test scores and school grades.

Here’s one overview.

Adrian at Tales of an Educated Debutante has been knocking it out of the park all week.  I particularly liked her post on Read to Achieve.  Since I can’t seem to isolate the link to just one post, head over and check out her whole page.  It’s worth it.

We also learned this week that many NC voters aren’t yet well-informed about the six constitutional amendments on the ballot in November.  While all of the amendments, IMO, should be rejected, the tax cap amendment is particularly harmful to education, and to the continued financial well-being of our state.  Here are a few articles explaining why:

http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2018/06/21/artificial-income-tax-cap-would-permanently-hamstring-our-public-schools/

http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2018/06/28/bad-for-north-carolinas-bottom-line/

 

About those school supplies…

Today, I got an email from my daughter’s band teacher.  This year, he said, sheet music for the class will not be provided.  Instead, parents have been instructed to print out the music themselves, then collate into a sheet protectors and a binder (parent-provided, of course) for our children to use at school.  This is in addition to the workbook we already bought and the online music practice software to which we are required to purchase a subscription.  Oh, and he’s also looking for volunteers to paint the band room (no word on whether we should be sending in the paint).

When my kids started school, I expected to provide school supplies.  Pencils, binders, backpacks, a cute little pencil box, probably some crayons and nice big eraser.  I was a little bemused when the lists also included scissors, glue, paper, tissues, cleaning supplies, paper products and markers for the white board, but I figured that just must be the way things were.  But I must say, It’s surprising to be asked to provide the instructional materials, too.

This is not the first time it’s happened.  For the last two years, I have supplied the novels required for my daughter’s English class.  I also bought her a math book last year, not because it was required, but because it was the only way she’d have access to any instructional materials at all.  It’s not that the kids no longer need instructional materials (a common refrain among those who are comfortable with cutting supply budgets), rather that the schools no longer have the ability to provide those materials.

Now, I realize it may be unseemly for me to be complaining about providing my child’s school supplies and instructional materials.  After all, I’m a wealthy(ish) stay-at-home mom living in a wealthy(ish) area.  I have a printer at home, as well as a computer and access to the internet.  And I can certainly afford to spend a few hundred dollars on my kids’ education.  But what about the families who can’t?  Spending $15 for one of the novels my daughter needs for class is an inconvenience for me.  For another mom, that same novel represents over two hours of work at minimum wage.  That’s a pretty stiff burden in a state where our Constitution is supposed to guarantee every child — no matter how wealthy their family — a sound, basic education.

The NCGA keeps shifting more and more of its Constitutional responsibility to individual families, and it’s all too easy for us to assume it’s normal.  But it’s not normal, and it’s not inevitable.  As always, the answer is to vote out candidates who don’t take their responsibilities seriously.

 

Education Roundup, 9/1/18

Morning, all.  Here’s a (slightly belated) look at what’s been happening around the web in education:

First, if you read only one thing this week, make it this article from WUNC:  http://www.wunc.org/post/what-public-school-finance-officers-want-you-know-about-school-funding.  In it, school finance officers describe one of the roots of tension between the school districts and the NCGA, and I suspect, the fundamental misunderstanding that leads NCGA leaders to claim schools are “misusing” funds.

Second, while you’re over at WUNC, check out the companion piece:  http://www.wunc.org/post/10-questions-understand-school-funding-nc#stream/0

Third, an interesting look at the correlation between school spending and rates of discipline:  http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/education_law/2018/08/connecting-school-quality-dots-money-race-suspension-and-safety.html

Fourth, Kris Nordstrom dives into school safety here in NC:  http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2018/08/29/as-teachers-and-students-return-state-and-federal-lawmakers-are-still-failing-to-address-school-safety/

And finally, I tried to pick just one of Stu Egan’s pieces this week to highlight, but frankly they’re all important and interesting.  Do yourself a favor and spend a little time over at Caffeinated Rage this weekend.  It will be worth it.

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:  https://www.facebook.com/notes/heather-scott-for-wake-county-board-of-education-district-1/i-want-them-to-have-the-best-opportunity/2577770145782128/

An interesting piece about some of the false assumptions underlying the push to privatize schools:  http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/education_law/2018/08/false-assumptions-about-private-schools-are-driving-public-school-funding-into-a-ditch.html

From an NC teacher, some information about the NCGA’s disastrous principal pay plan:  http://notesfromthechalkboard.com/2018/08/22/north-carolinas-principal-pay-plan-does-more-harm-than-good/

And Stu Egan wrote movingly about the many people it takes to make a school environment complete:  https://caffeinatedrage.com/2018/08/19/true-human-resources-people-make-schools-work-ask-the-ncga-to-invest-in-them-with-your-vote-in-november/

 

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:

https://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/article216408895.html

From the Washington Post, a good look at the legacy of Arne Duncan, President Obama’s Secretary of Education:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2018/08/15/arne-duncan-talks-a-good-game/?utm_term=.fbffc103eee4

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

And Forbes.com peeks under the veil of “non-profit” charter schools:  https://www.forbes.com/sites/petergreene/2018/08/13/how-to-profit-from-your-non-profit-charter-school/#64884f0a3354

 

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: https://caffeinatedrage.com/2018/08/09/debunking-13-common-electioneering-claims-made-by-current-politicians-concerning-ncs-public-schools/

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:  http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2018/08/09/report-north-carolinas-latest-state-budget-fails-to-effectively-address-n-c-s-existing-and-emerging-needs/

And this, via Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post, is a lovely testament to the power of teachers “seeing” their students:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2018/08/06/a-powerfully-humane-element-of-teaching/?utm_term=.19deb3745037

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:   http://www.ncjustice.org/sites/default/files/UNRAVELING%20-%207%20Years%20of%20Bad%20Policies–ED%20LAW.pdf