Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bob Etheridge appears to have been a smidge off on the actual dollar figure, but the essence of his comment about his grandchild’s public school during last night’s Democratic gubernatorial debate  was on the money and goes right to the heart of the single most important issue facing our state: It is simply ridiculous that public school PTA’s and other support groups must raise private donations to fund core services at our public schools.
At Etheridge’s grandchild’s school — Root Elementary, which is located in an affluent Raleigh neighborhood — parents have been encouraged to contribute a specified amount to help the school independently underwrite the cost of another staff person. And, as anyone with children in the North Carolina public schools who’s ever attended a PTA meeting knows, Root’s practice is not an exceptional situation; it is, in fact extremely common. It was the practice at my children’s Raleigh elementary school.
This, of course, is a absurd and unjust situation. Like roads and police departments and other essential public structures, public schools ought to receive all the funding they need from public tax dollars. But, as anyone with a child in the schools knows, they simply don’t.
By raising this basic issue, Etheridge has shined a light on one of the biggest elephants in the the state policy room right now — namely North Carolina’s chronic and shortsighted underfunding of public education.
Conservatives can claim as much as they want that money isn’t the solution in public schools, but the simple truth is that they are just plain wrong. Money doesn’t solve all problems, but having more people in the classroom is almost always a big help. And that takes money. The parents at Root Elementary know this just like the parents and teachers at the school my kids attended knew it a decade ago.
And Republican gubernatorial front runner Pat McCrory ought to know it too. His sister was a teacher at my kid’s old school.