Dr. Mike Ward, who served as state superintendent of Public Instruction from 1997 to 2004, warns in a Wednesday editorial in the News & Observer that “the nation will witness the backslide” of North Carolina following a series of legislative proposals that undercut public education:
‘How sad we were to move back to Raleigh last fall and find some legislative leaders committed to a sprint to the bottom. After being far more competitive, North Carolina now ranks 48th in per pupil expenditure and 46th in how well we reward our hard-working teachers. And some in the General Assembly appear poised to make it worse.
Here’s just a sample of the proposed policies that stand to hurt our public schools and our students:
1.) Massive cuts to school funding. This means thousands of lost teaching positions. It means crowded classrooms and the loss of teacher assistants in early elementary grades, even though research shows that smaller class sizes help students, especially struggling students.
2.) Vouchers. If you want to know where money to pay for teachers is going, one place to look is at the proposed voucher legislation. Proponents refer to them as “opportunity scholarships.” Vouchers are bad public policy, snatching millions of dollars away from public schools that desperately need them. We support the choice of private education, but taxpayers will foot the bill for some parents to send their children to private schools. Legislators backing these vouchers will tell you that the vouchers are for disadvantaged students, but the bulk of these vouchers will go to middle-income residents – and you’ll get to pay their children’s private school tuition. Vouchers are an expensive, divisive program with virtually no record of improving overall student performance.
3.) Reduced funding for pre-kindergarten. This is a senseless and self-defeating proposal. Investing in pre-K is not just good for kids – it’s good for all of us. Research shows that quality pre-K returns $5-$13 for every dollar spent by reducing costs for remedial education, social services and criminal justice.
Just as the nation took notice during our impressive period of investment and progress, the nation will witness the backslide. High-end employers and investors will take their money elsewhere; no one wants to send their dollars to places that are weak on educational support and noted for social strife. The racial and economic divisions in our communities will deepen. Opportunity for those living at the margins will shrink. That’s not just wrong, that’s bad wrong.
This is not the North Carolina we have been or want to be. The good news is that it’s not too late for our legislators to do the right thing. Residents must study these crucial education issues and call their representatives in the General Assembly before these disastrous policy and budget proposals become law.’
To read the full editorial, click here.