Voting For Education

Early voting is in full swing, so I’m taking a break from the Amendments (Nix all Six!) to talk a little bit about how to spot pro-public education candidates, from state level legislators down to school board.

Nobody (well, almost nobody) ever comes out and says “I do not support public education.”  So in general, you need to dig a little deeper.  Here’s what you’re looking for:

  1.  Specificity

Ponder the following statement, found on one candidate’s  website:

[Redacted]’s background as a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill has led her to a great understanding of North Carolina’s education system.

 She is passionate about her work in the Senate for improving early childhood and K-20 public education. 

Not very specific, is it?  The candidate claims she is passionate about improving K-20 (what grade is 20th?) education, but provides absolutely no actual information on what she means by that.  There is a chance she might be a public schools advocate, but she certainly doesn’t think education is an important enough issue to merit any kind of specific policy positions. 

Compare and contrast with this candidate:

As a long time public school advocate and PTA leader, I know that every child deserves a world class education, right here in North Carolina. From pre-K through high school, education should be free to students and well-funded by the state. For our state to compete economically and for all individuals to live fulfilled lives, a quality education is crucial.

Our state government needs to restore the respect of our teachers and administrators, respect that has been damaged under the current leadership in our General Assembly.  We need to increase teacher pay, restore pay scales that reward teachers for advanced degrees and experience and end pay incentives based on test scores.  We also need to support ALL students through increased per pupil spending and investment in their school buildings.  We need to provide students the resources to support their social-emotional learning through increased funding for school counselors, social workers and nurses.

As the mother of magnet school children, I understand the decisions parents make every year when it to comes to deciding where their child goes to school. But I also believe that all publically funded schools should be on a level playing field. For years, the current majority in the General Assembly has allowed our tax dollars to flow to unaccountable charter schools and voucher programs. That’s not right. If a school wants to receive public funding, then they need to be completely transparent and provide the same resources that every North Carolina public school provides – like transportation, lunch programs, and additional resources for students.

This is much more informative.  Note how the candidate not only makes explicit her support for public education, but also lists several concrete policies she would like to enact.

2.  Meaningless or misleading claims

Here’s my number one tip for reading a candidate’s website:  If they make any version of the claim “we’re spending more on education than ever before!,” do not vote for them.  Just don’t.  I’ve written before on why this is such a meaningless claim, and anyone making it hopes you just won’t notice.  The same thing goes with “we gave teachers/principals/workers raises.”  Well, that may be true, but did those raises keep up with inflation?  Were other aspects of teachers’ pay decreased correspondingly, making their “raises” illusory?  Did all teachers get a raise, or only some?  (and that doesn’t even touch the principal pay claim, which is such a big issue that it merits its own blog post at a later date.  For now, suffice to say that our most experienced principals face massive (as in up to 30%) pay cuts under the NCGA’s current pay scheme).

3.  Explicit Support for  public schools

Take a look at this candidate’s website:

The 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 state budgets passed during [Redacted]’s tenure all substantially increased teacher pay and overall K-12 education spending in North Carolina.

At long-last, starting teacher pay was increased to $35,000 and average teacher pay to $50,000 thanks to [Redacted]’s commitment to increasing compensation for educators.

The North Carolina House also passed pay raises for principals, assistant principals and other state employees who work in education administration in 2017.

North Carolina has developed a dynamic education system under [Redacted]’s leadership, expanding options for parents through significant charter school enrollment growth, more Opportunity Scholarships for low-income students and pilot-programs like Achievement School Districts to improve low-performing schools.

This candidate supports some schools, all right, but they’re definitely not public schools.  Note his enthusiastic mention of both charter schools and public funding for private schools.  And he throws in a reference to the opposite-of-choice “Achievement School Districts,” an outdated term for a program that seizes high-poverty schools from school districts and turns them over to private managers.  Add in some meaningless/misleading claims, and you’ve got yourself a candidate that deserves to lose.

4.  A clear understanding of their job

A few days ago, I read a quote from a school board candidate that thought the board to which he hoped to be elected should be spending much more money on school safety than it currently is.  I daresay any current member of that board would agree with him.  But school boards cannot raise money; they can only spend what they are given by the various jurisdictions with taxing authority (federal, state and county).  And it wasn’t at all clear that this candidate understood this fact (there is a chance he meant that the school board should cut spending elsewhere to free up funds, but it didn’t sound like that’s what he meant).  You and I could be forgiven for not knowing exactly who is responsible for funding schools, but one would hope a candidate for a seat on any governing body would at least have a basic grasp on its powers.

On that note, a quick primer:  in NC, the state has a Constitutional responsibility to provide a sound, basic education to every child.  That means providing the money to run the public schools.  Traditionally, counties have been responsible for building schools, and many also kick in additional operating funds though they are under no obligation to do so.  School boards have absolutely no taxing authority at all; they must make do with whatever funds the state, county and (to a lesser extent) the federal governments provide.

Armed with this info, get out there and vote!  Bring friends.  Or, better yet, come vote with friends at our “Parents to the Polls” even this coming Sunday, October 28.  Find more info here.

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