It is becoming increasingly clear that the single, best thing that North Carolina lawmakers could do to aid public education in our state is this: nothing.
Seriously, lawmakers would do our young people, educators, public education officials, employers, and the state at-large an enormous service if they would simply pass one bill each year providing the funding that our schools really need and then get the heck out of the way and check back in five or ten years. No more “ABC’s” of this or that or “Excellent Schools Acts.” Nothing, nada, zip. Just give our professionals the money and the mandate and let them do their jobs.
Unfortunately, the urge to meddle, micromanage and pass half-baked ideas that some lawmaker heard something about over dinner or on Fox News assures that this will never happen. For the most recent example of this apparently irresistible tendency, check out the proposal in the North Carolina Senate to “bill” local schools for the cost of remediation courses that students take in Community College. As NC Policy Watch reporter Sarah Ovaska reported this morning, one of the bill’s key sponsors, Senator Tom Apodaca, thinks this will make a difference:
The desire, Apodaca said, is to make sure the state’s K-12 system is turning out graduates ready to jump into the higher levels of education.
“We’re sending a message to our schools that we want quality coming out,” Apodaca said.
You got that? The premise of the law — as with so many other conservative education proposals in recent years — is that North Carolina can wring better results out of its public schools through sheer force. Rather than addressing poverty, providing universal pre-K, lowering class sizes or investing the money that it would really take to hire the teachers and counselors and other professionals who could perform the miracle of preparing millions of kids for the insanely competitive 21st Century economy (half of whom come from families too poor to afford lunch), the Senate would propose to get better K-12 grads by threatening to take away more money from their schools.
What a great idea! Maybe this can even set a precedent for other parts the education system. For instance, after this bill is passed, lawmakers can pass legislation that allows K-12 systems to bill pre-K programs (or parents) for the kids who show up needing “remediation. ” Another bill could force colleges and universities to pay for the young teachers who arrive in K-12 not fully prepared to teach.
After that, who knows where such an innovative idea might lead? Maybe North Carolina could enact a law that forces prisons to pay for the cost of recidivism or perhaps one that cuts the environmental protection budget each time there’s a coal ash spill. How about a law that docks legislators’ pay for poor state job growth? Yeah, that’s the ticket!
The in-all-seriousness bottom line: North Carolina is never going to make any progress in improving its public education system through a threat-based “big stick” model. The only real, long-term solution is to abandon such “divide and conquer” policies based on blame, recognize the complexity of situations like the issue of college remediation and move forward with the understanding that we are all responsible for educating our children and all in the public education business together.