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N.C. lawmakers: Don’t send us nasty letters!

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.

16 Comments

  1. david esmay

    April 19, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    “GOP Bullied by Vengeful Third Graders”

  2. Jeff S

    April 19, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    So did they do anything productive? Or was the entire meeting about diverting attention away from themselves and playing the victim?

  3. Sarah Ovaska

    April 19, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    @Jeff — The superintendents did spend most of the time talking about what’s happening in their districts, and there were a few other questions from lawmakers about school performance, etc. So the talk about emails and letters certainly weren’t the majority of the meeting but did seem a bit out of place considering all that the committee is tasked with overseeing.

  4. Frances Jenkins

    April 19, 2012 at 10:05 pm

    I challenge Sarah to request all e-mails from classroom teacher/principals/administors to legislators and examine the time. I bet over 95% were written during the school day when educators should be focused on instruction and students.. Prove me wrong.

  5. jlp75

    April 20, 2012 at 7:46 am

    Frances, as you say teachers should be focused on instruction and students. Would that not also include doing everything possible to assure that their classroom is funded properly? I doubt Sarah will waste her time on such an exercise in futility. It seems you have a lot of free time on your hands though. Do it yourself and let us know what you find.

  6. Frank Burns

    April 20, 2012 at 9:11 am

    The superintendant should be fair and remind the students that much of the funding for the laid off teachers came from federal dollars that were supposed to stimulate the econonmy. That didn’t work too well, did it? The Republicans only cut 1% from the previous year’s spending. That’s not cutting, that’s noise level.

  7. david esmay

    April 20, 2012 at 9:39 am

    1% is is a lot of teacher’s salaries, wait until the fall and see how they’ve damaged public schools.

  8. Jack

    April 20, 2012 at 9:43 am

    Regardless the source of the money Republicans deliberately increased the unemployment rate in NC. Correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t Republican candidates run on the promise that if elected they would create jobs in NC once in office?

  9. Frank Burns

    April 20, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    Jack,
    Allow me to correct you. The Republicans are interested in stimulating the private sector not the government sector. The goal is minimize the public sector so we can minimize our taxes. I hope that helps.

  10. david esmay

    April 20, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    Frank, so in right wing bizarro world, increasing unemployment and shrinking NC’s economy, is actually growing employment and the economy. By privatizing the public wealth, i.e., education, natural resources, and cutting taxes on the wealthiest, you can “minimize” the ability of average citizens to govern themselves. Eric Blair would love it. Afghanistan and Somalia must be the inspiration for the T-bagger model. They have small government, few educational opportunities, plenty of guns, and are deeply religious to the point that not agreeing with the state religion can cost you your life. Oh, I almost forgot, women and the LGBT community have no rights. I hope that helps.

  11. Frank Burns

    April 20, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    David, you’re rambling.

  12. david esmay

    April 20, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    Leaving a 1 cent sales tax in place would have ended this debate and funded education. States that increased spending on education, say Iowa for instance, with a repub governor, increased education spending by 8%, enjoy low unemployment and continued growth. You don’t solve economic problems by attacking children.

  13. Frank Burns

    April 20, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    David,
    Another option is to shift funds from one program to another. If one government program is not being productive or is working, shut that operation down and shift those funds to where the need is. In my opinion, Pre K is a huge waste of tax funds and could be better served to actual education not free day care.

  14. Jack

    April 21, 2012 at 11:52 am

    I get it Frank. You want the government to go away so business can return to the age robber barons that pay no taxes. I suspect you’re not so much interested in fewer tax for the people as you are for no taxes for big business. Retuning to twelve hour days and minimum pay is your vision of the future for the average employee. I get it Frank.

  15. Ann

    April 21, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    Pre-K is NOT babysitting, nor a waste of money, much as the right-wing tea partiers would want us to believe. Of course, we don’t want to confuse them with logic, but there have been reams and reams published showing the LONG-TERM positive effects of Pre-K.

  16. Frank Burns

    April 21, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    Ann, I’ve seen reams and reams of data that show there is no long lasting benefit to having children in Pre K. All gains are gone by Junior High. It’s a leftwing myth that it actually accomplishes anything other than provide a free day care.