N.C. lawmakers finally had a chance to talk to superintendents about the effects last year’s state budget had on actual classrooms at a Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee Thursday morning.
But instead of asking about the fall-out from 900-plus teachers losing their jobs, the elected officials starting griping instead about angry letters they got from constituents last year about education cuts.
Committee Co-chair Rep. Bryan Holloway, a Stokes County Republican, complained that he kept on getting letters from irate teachers during last year’s legislative session – sent during school hours and from school email addresses, Holloway said.
And then state Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, the House Majority Leader from Apex, rehashed an incident from last year in which freshman GOP lawmaker Mike Stone said his daughter was instructed in school to write him a letter blasting the budget priorities.
The letter ended with the child asking, “Please put the budget higher dad,” according to WRAL.
Lee County Superintendent Jeffrey Moss replied that he had looked into the matter, and found the teacher was being completely appropriate and leading a class on how to write persuasively. None of the students’ letters were even sent to lawmakers though the teacher ended up sending a letter to state leaders about the budget cuts from the whole class.
Filming the exchange with a camera phone at Thursday’s meeting was Dallas Woodhouse, of the N.C. chapter of conservative Americans for Prosperity (which is funded largely by North Carolina multi-millionaire Art Pope.)
(This also isn’t the first time Woodhouse has jumped into this matter – in June he sent out a plea to Lee County officials asking them to fire Moss.)
Moss, speaking with N.C. Policy Watch after the meeting, said he hadn’t found any wrongdoing on behalf of the teacher at Sanford’s Tramway Elementary School.
The teacher was giving a class lesson on persuasive writing with her third-grade students, and didn’t instruct them on what to write, Moss said.
The school gets copies of local newspaper, and one of the biggest issues in the news at that time was education funding. The teacher then had students write letters on their own addressed to lawmakers, and it was left up to the students to include what they wanted to write.
As for the children’s concerns last year that some of their teachers’ assistants would lose their jobs?
Turns out that did happen at Tramway Elementary, as well as other schools in the district.
Though no teacher positions were cut (Moss said the Lee County came through with more than $600,000 to make up for what the state didn’t fund), the district laid off 39 teachers’ assistants in elementary schools around the district.
State Superintendent June Atkinson, who was at Thursday’s education oversight committee meeting, said she thinks the letter-writing was appropriate, and she expects it.
State law calls for teachers to instruct students on how to contact and interact with government officials as a way of instilling civic responsibility in the state’s youngest residents, Atkinson said.
If the legislature doesn’t like hearing from students, then they should think about changing the law, she said.
“It’s a civics lesson to help students understand the political process,” she said. “They’re going to be our future voters and they need to understand the process.”
And part of being an elected officials means hearing from people who don’t like what you’re doing, even schoolchildren.