Commentary, COVID-19

As he recovers, let’s hope Treasurer Folwell urges North Carolinians to work together by keeping apart

After five days of hospitalization for treatment of COVID-19, North Carolina Treasurer Dale Folwell has, thankfully, been released from the hospital. News reports indicate that he will continue to recover from home.

While all of us are grateful for the Treasurer’s recovery, I can’t help but wonder: would my 8-year-old asthmatic son survive such a diagnosis? Would my mother, who consistently struggles with respiratory issues, be as fortunate? Would she have access to a ventilator if it were necessary?

I want to see my students, who are seniors in high school, have the opportunity to walk across the stage.  I want to see my own son walk. I want his grandmother to be there.

While it’s tempting to simply let this matter drop given the unfortunate personal suffering Treasurer Folwell has had to endure, the fact remains that this is the same man who, in his role as leader of the State Health Plan, has admonished state employees and educators to be “watchdogs” and take “control of your medical costs – Be a smart health care consumer” so as not to unnecessarily and irresponsibly burden taxpayers.

Many people have been unduly complacent when it comes to social distancing and heeding the directives of public health experts during the current crisis, but when one of those people is an important state leader – especially one responsible for overseeing the State Health Plan – it merits additional scrutiny.

Where did Treasurer Folwell go when he proceeded with a “long-planned trip with his son” in the midst of a global pandemic?

Just how many people did he expose to the virus when he still showed up to work while displaying symptoms, including the reporters with whom he met to discuss the economic impacts on the State Retirement Plan? Three of his staff members have since been diagnosed with the illness. Did they contract it from their boss?

Treasurer Folwell is also the person who launched the controversial “Clear Pricing Project” – an effort that ended up placing over 700,000 state and public school employees, retirees, and their dependents in an uncomfortable “no man’s land” last year as he tried to force hospitals, like the hospital at which he was treated for COVID-19, to adopt a transparent and reduced pricing schedule. His insistence on transparency should not be limited to the places he seeks care, but should also apply to sharing more details about his trip that perhaps initiated his need for care.

In 2018, Treasurer Folwell reformatted the health insurance cards of state employees and educators to read “Paid for by YOU and other NC Taxpayers.” It would have been nice if he had taken his own words into account throughout his recent series of questionable choices.

To be fair, there was no “stay at home” directive when Treasurer Folwell chose to travel with his son, but the COVID-19 crisis had erupted worldwide and had already established a firm beachhead in the United States. It should not have taken an explicit order from our government for a top public official to act responsibly for himself, his staff, and for the residents of the state he was elected to serve.

For someone who has dedicated much of his political career to championing small government and personal responsibility, and whose job it is to manage risk, the hypocrisy of these lapses in judgement cannot go unchallenged, and is consistent with Folwell’s calls for transparency and watchdogs.

Let’s hope he is soon fully recovered and able to deliver a message urging all North Carolinians to take seriously the need for us to work together by keeping apart.

Stay home folks.

Kim Mackey is a veteran Wake County public school teacher and the author of the blog educatED Policy.

Commentary

In mock college application essay, NC teacher explains how state leaders are failing our kids

Students succeed in spite of state education policy, not because of it

Students across North Carolina are working on their college applications.  If I were one of them, this would be my response to a common application prompt:

Common App Prompt #2

The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

Many obstacles I encountered throughout my education were put there by those whose job it is to support me, my school, and my community. The overarching obstacle I have faced is overlooking all the ways my state government has tried to tell me I am failing, along with my classmates, teachers and school.

I tried finding my favorite English teacher to help me with this essay, but she left teaching for a job outside of education. She was great. I had hoped my younger brother would have her.

I’m still trying to figure out who can write recommendation letters for me. My club advisor from last year moved to teach in another state. I’m sure she would have written a great recommendation, but I don’t know how to get in touch with her. My counselor will write one, but her caseload is 350 students even though the national recommendation is 250.

When adjusted for inflation, the state invested more money per student when I started Kindergarten than it currently funds per student in my last year of high school. We’re still waiting on a bipartisan compromise budget from our state leaders for this school year.

Can we close the per pupil funding gap before I graduate? Or are tax giveaways to corporations and the wealthy an obstacle to making that happen?

Most recently, I received a printout of my state math test results (just in time to write my college admission essay!) The letter accompanying the results said that I am not “on track for career and college readiness.”  I guess I should stop writing this essay.

Instead it has offered yet another example of the attempts to say that I am not good enough, and neither are my teachers or school. 75% of my peers throughout the state (many now applying to college or preparing for the military or workforce) have now just been told we are not “on track.”

Does our state truly believe that 75% of us are not ready for college or the workforce? If so, it seems obstacles must be removed by activating these policies:

  • Restore per pupil funding to the same level as when I entered Kindergarten.
  • Build more brick and mortar classrooms to accommodate smaller class sizes so students and teachers can more closely work together.
  • Provide students with actual textbooks to take home.
  • Value teachers as experts who create innovative lessons and personalize learning for their students instead of paying for scripted lessons, software, and screens from “education entrepreneurs” motivated by personal profit.
  • Welcome back 7,400 teaching assistant positions to develop math and literacy skills with people instead of software.
  • Restore extra pay for a Master’s degree and improve overall pay so teachers stay in the profession long enough to become experienced and mentor incoming teachers.
  • Stop unfairly labeling students, teachers, and schools as “failing” or “not on track for career and college readiness” as they succeed in spite of state policy and labeling, not because of it.

Looking at the conference budget, it appears you still refuse to do these things even when public school supporters took to the streets for two years in a row.

I guess I’ll have to work to undo those obstacles for those who graduate after me.  I don’t want my younger siblings, or my future children to have reason to write this same essay.  See you at the polls.

Sincerely,

A member of the NC Class of 2020

This appeared originally on Mackey’s blog educatED policy.