Each win matters: Public education advocates reflect on a year of struggle to solve the class size crisis

[This is the third installment in a series of brief essays by some of the North Carolina advocates who helped lead the fight to repeal the General Assembly’s unfunded mandate to reduce class sizes in grades K-3. You can read previous installments by clicking here and here.]

Motivated to Act: Sarah Littlejohn McDade

I never cared one bit about politics. I was a registered Republican, born and raised in Raleigh who would sometimes vote across party lines depending on the issues, and lived my simple, middle class life with no real worries. Then on September 19 of last year, I found out that my son, a 7 year old second grader at Abbotts Creek Elementary, would be kicked out of his school for the 2018-2019 year due to something called the class size mandate.

I had heard of this mandate, heard we might lose music, PE, technology and art but always figured it would work out somehow. I mean, there was no way our legislators would allow such a thing to happen in our schools, right? Now it was affecting my family. Affecting my shy, reserved, not-easily-adaptable-to-change son. He was to be kicked out of a school located across the street from our home, a school not overcrowded nor capped. My son had just started 2nd grade, and had become a confident, happy student after two years of struggling to adapt to a new school.

Not knowing what to do next, I began to research the class size mandate online. I needed to write my representatives, but had never done that before. I didn’t even know who my representatives were! After a simple “Who represents me” Google search, I found an easy to use map of North Carolina, put in my address, and there it was. I wrote emails to my House and Senate representatives, explaining my situation and pleaded with them to fund the mandate.

Thus began my advocacy for public education and for my son. I found out my representatives’ voting records, contacted the appropriate senators, and was surprised to find just how partisan the issues surrounding public education really were. Why was doing what’s right for public education a partisan issue?

I spoke at a press conference at the Legislative Building. I spoke at a public school board meeting. I met with elected officials, went to rallies and continued to write and make phone calls. It was completely empowering…and it worked. Although the “fix” to the mandate was tied in with other issues I did not agree with, the General Assembly did bow to public pressure and decide to phase in the class size requirements over the next four years with funding, saving specials classes and keeping schools from using closets and teachers’ lounges as classrooms

I realized that of all the years I had been voting, I never really did my homework on who I was voting for, and it was eye-opening and humbling. With access to the Internet, it is so easy to quickly research the voting records of those holding office and make an educated decision on whether or not to vote for them. With the political climate the way it is these days, it is more important than ever to know who you are voting for, what they stand for, and who donates to their campaigns. We cannot just focus on national level issues. Local elections are so important! Issues on a state and local level affect you directly, and having the right information before walking in to cast your ballot is crucial. The past several months has taught me this very valuable lesson and I don’t ever plan on voting uneducated again — especially this year!

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